The enigmatic duo’s near-mythical comeback finally comes to pass, and it was worth the wait
Released: 17th May 2013
There’s a lot that’s surprising about Random Access Memories, the latest offering – and the first studio album proper for eight years – from Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, the Parisian house legends better known to the world as Daft Punk. What’s relieving, though, after all that time and all this album’s twists and turns, is this: it was worth it. The bombastic opening chords of first track ‘Give Life Back to Music’ herald the arrival of an hour-and-fourteen-minute opus which touches base equally with funk, disco, and the poppy house on which the duo have built their reputation, but which reaches out to the future as strongly as it is rooted in the past. It’s definitely Daft Punk, but it’s more dynamic and more diverse than we’ve ever heard them before.
Much has been rightly made of the album’s long and impressive list of guest contributors, but what is most striking is the extent to which these tracks really are musical collaborations, not just the sort of name-dropping cameos which are all too familiar to modern listeners. The insouciant cool which Pharrell Williams lends to the MJ-esque ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ and infectious lead single ‘Get Lucky’ is what’s garnered the most attention, but the most pleasing collusion here is with Chic’s Nile Rodgers, whose funky guitars lend an extra groove to three of the album’s tracks. Special mention also goes to Julian Casablancas, whose turn on ‘Instant Crush’ sounds exactly how The Strokes produced by Daft Punk would, the familiar detached vocals and staccato guitars squeezed through filters, lest we forget for a moment who’s at the helm.
Indeed, those ever-present vocoders are back with a vengeance, but the juxtaposition of electronic and organic elements feels particularly deliberate on this record. The strangely affecting use of a filtered, robotic voice expressing very human sentiments, long one of Daft Punk’s trademarks, is even more striking when that voice belongs to Casablancas or, on ‘Doin’ it Right’, Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, or when it sails over Chilly Gonzales’ loungey piano on ‘Within’, the closest the album gets to a ballad. “Touch… I remember touch…” croaks a distant, android voice on the album’s centerpiece ‘Touch’, before the track bursts – via a tender cameo from another Williams, veteran singer-songwriter Paul – into a joyous cacophony of keyboards and brass, the perfect foil for the self-conscious late-night swagger of Pharrell’s contributions.
Make no mistake, though – this is the sound of musicians who are cherry picking from the past, but only that they might carve out a path into the future. The album’s closer ‘Contact’, co-produced by the duo’s compatriot DJ Falcon, is the only track on which Daft Punk elected to use samples; appropriately bizarrely, they plumped for a NASA recording from the Apollo 17 spaceflight and an excerpt from ‘We Ride Tonight’ by ‘70s Aussie rockers The Sherbs. Rising electronic wails pierce through arcade game synth arpeggios like a rocket bursting through the atmosphere, as if to remind us that, on Random Access Memories, Daft Punk are boldly going where no one – or no member of The Sherbs, certainly – has gone before.