Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
A track by track breakdown of the heavily hyped, mixed-bag of a disco-synth album
It’s the most anticipated album of the year, but it’s only partly been worth the wait. While Tron-helmeted duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s commitment to using real live musicians and an eclectic pool of guests to recreate the authentic sound of the disco era is laudable, getting Nile Rodgers in to play guitar doesn’t mean you’re making a Chic record. Where it works, though, they’ve struck upon some of the year’s finest and most distinctive pop music.
1. Give Life Back to Music ●●●
It rather oddly cruises in on a slick guitar riff reminiscent of a produced-to-death take on Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, a sound that certainly drives the expectation skywards for all of a few seconds. It’s a false start, as the tension drops into a lithe and upbeat groove courtesy of Nile Rodgers’ guitar, the first of three appearances here. As Guy-Manuel and Thomas’ vocodered voices bounce through the mantra ‘let the music of your life / give life back to music’, the record’s off to an insufferable, catchy and somewhat vanilla start.
2. The Game of Love ●●●
For anyone who’s ever fancied being serenaded by a call centre recorded message, this beauty is for you. Delving into the more memorable but less challenging end of the 80s spectrum, the soft porn soundtrack reminds of the Midnight Caller theme and Barry White, if Barry White was a Cylon. Creepily memorable.
3. Giorgio By Moroder ●●●●
Top marks for balls here, as the pair pass vocal duties over to disco legend Giorgio Moroder, who proceeds to wax lyrical about his life and career while a surging swell of synthesiser disco-funk that’s too of-the-70s to be pastiche builds in the background. There’s a certain irony in Moroder saying ‘nobody told me what to do and there was no preconception of what to do’ when this record’s steeped in Xerox memories of the past, but this song tackles that past with cheery invention.
4. Within ●●●
Another ballad whose fresh-tinkled ivories suggest the presence of guest star Chilly Gonzales, although this time the combination of downbeat soft focus and vocodered beyond all sense of humanity vocals is strangely touching as our tinny-voiced protagonist swoons ‘there are so many things that I don’t understand / there’s a world within me that I cannot explain’.
5. Instant Crush ●●
Part of the problem with this record is that it seems as much aimed at vintage synth-spotters as it does fans of what Daft Punk do. By all means lose yourself in the flanging loveliness of this song’s lead part, but don’t expect to remember it when you’re done with other. Still, it’s the best thing Julian Casablancas has been involved with since ‘Reptilia’ a decade ago.
6. Lose Yourself to Dance ●●●●
This is much more like it, and probably the other least resistible ‘chart smash’ (seeing as we’re in the 1980s) after the lead single. That’s possibly because it’s another Pharrell (Williams) ‘n’ Nile (Rodgers)-starrer, the former trying out his best falsetto Michael Jackson slow-jam voice while Rodgers lays down a fluttering, to-die-for funk guitar line.
7. Touch ●●●●
First-rate torch singing from vocalist Paul Williams (he wrote The Carpenters’ ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ and The Muppets’ ‘Rainbow Connection’; bow down), which turns into a flare-swinging disco-ragtime and then a slinking electro-R’n’B slowjam with the charming mantra ‘hold on / if love is the answer you’re home’. Slightly weird, very charming.
8. Get Lucky ●●●●●
Description feels unnecessary here, as Rodgers, Williams and the DP duo team up once more on the catchiest and most ludicrously successful single of the year so far. The fact it didn’t make an impression until about the fifth or tenth listen and then became instantly beloved leads us to suspect the rest of the album might follow suit and all of these scores will be redundant, but it’s by far the best thing here.
9. Beyond ●●
One thing Random Access Memories does to great effect is provide a masterclass in how to start a song. Swooping strings conjure a John Williams-doing-The Love Boat atmosphere here, but the song’s an almost perfunctory groove by the standards of the rest of the album.
10. Motherboard ●●●
A soft, beguiling instrumental that sounds little like anything else on the record. For some reason we’re reminded of Terry Callier by it.
11. Fragments of Time ●●●
It wouldn’t be a Daft Punk album these days without the involvement of producer Todd Edwards, who provided vocals for ‘Face to Face’ on Discovery. A lovely, breezy pop song with a cheery hook and refreshingly untreated vocals, a 21st century analogue of Hall & Oates or Steely Dan with a bit of Supertramp space-disco lite injected at the end. And slide guitar, oddly enough.
12. Doin’ It Right ●●●●
The album’s final guest Panda Bear closes on a high with a light and melodic paean to dancing properly to a hip-hop beat and a hint of Kraftwerk keys midway through.
13. Contact ●●●●
What a way to go, and using the should-have-been-dead-and-buried trope of setting the scene with a bit of recorded astronaut chatter at the beginning. It’s slick and dynamic, and what it lacks in originality it makes up for with a sheer energy that only transfers to selected tracks elsewhere on the record.