After a lengthy stretch of anticipation, false starts, leaked tracks and innumerable images of grown men dressed as robots, humanity finally got its collective mitts on the new Daft Punk album this week. Your humble Chirpse correspondent received his pre-ordered copy of Random Access Memories via iTunes on May 20 and it’s all I’ve been listening to since.
Music reviews can sometimes be a bit boring and pointless so instead, based on my early impressions, here is a Nick Hornby-tastic list concerning the immediate best and worst things about the most anticipated album of 2013. Originally it was going to be a Top 5 best/worst things but I couldn’t find enough things for the ‘worst’ bit which I guess is an encouraging sign. Anyway, LET’S DO THIS.
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1) Not What I Was Expecting (In A Good Way): If you heard Get Lucky and thought you’d be getting a Friday night party album a few weeks later, then like say in Little Italy, fageddaboudit. Random Access Memories is an emotional odyssey wrapped up in 73 minutes of prog-disco that attempts to navigate the entire human condition through sound. Bloody hell.
That could be a bit of a downer but being that these days everyone is trying to sound like David Guetta and slinging in predictable guest vocals from turgid so-hot-right-now drones like Rihanna and Nicky Minaj, it makes a nice change to see someone doing something utterly out of step with what is considered “current”.
With nothing new under the sun, it’s almost impossible to surprise people in these jaded times, but Daft Punk have managed it. There were several moments on this album where I really wasn’t sure what, or even who, I was listening to. This shit is cray, but in the most positive, well-intentioned way possible. Well played, boys.
2) So Goddamn Smooth: The ‘Punk said they were trying to evoke the spirit of 70s disco and classic rock with this album and boy did they ever nail it. RAM has warm, luxurious production smoother than a Bullet Train on fresh steel tracks recently coated in olive oil. The whole thing is resplendent with grooves and listening to it made me want to grow a smut star moustache, wear a white satin suit and buy a vintage Ferrari. I can only really afford the first one but will happily accept donations for the other two.
3) Multiple Earworms: Some albums will plant a single song in your head which will then stay there for days on end. RAM manages the impressive feat of checking several of the bastards into your brain hotel all at once. And they keep ordering room service. Shit is catchier than herpes, son.
4) The Last Track: The album climaxes, in a very literal sense, with the song Contact, a bombastic leviathan that mixes science-fiction, prog rock and electronica into the aural equivalent of that bit in 2001: A Space Odyssey where whatshisface passes through the stargate and sees all those bonkers lights and colours and then evolves into a massive space baby or some shit. It’s a stunning way to end the album and I got so carried away listening to it the other day that I started head-banging on the Tube. The woman sat opposite me kept giving me funny looks while pretending to concentrate on her Kindle.
5) It’s A New Daft Punk Record: With an eight year wait since the last studio album, the fact that we finally got another one, and the fact that it’s actually pretty good, is cause to celebrate all by itself. Steven Spielberg once said of Stanley Kubrick that “He copied no one while all of us were scrambling to imitate him.”
The same can be said of these two esoteric Frenchmen, who always set a template that everyone else tries to match before then moving the goalposts and doing something completely different. It will be interesting to see how many hacks out there try and do 70s throwback disco albums in the wake of this new record.
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1) It All Kind Of Sounds The Same (But That’s Probably The Idea): Much like Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ album, RAM is intended to be consumed as a whole, where one track segues into the next seamlessly, ensuring a cohesive, captivating experience for the listener.
Except there are times where it’s all bit too bloody cohesive for its own good and what is intended as consistency almost comes off as laziness. The same ascending/descending bassline-plus-jangly-disco-guitar-bit is thrown at the listener so much that I’m wondering if Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo didn’t just go home early every day while they were making it.
2) Heartbreak Ballads Way Too Early On: If you put this record on at a house party, then it’s very likely that several people will leave the room within the first half hour. Of the first four tracks on the album, two are weepy robot ballads all about feelings and stuff, sung in French-accented vocoder majesty that is ripe with emotion but also has tickets for the SS Buzzkill, and we’re all heading straight for the goddamn iceberg of sadness. Putting two well-written-but-ultimately-depressing-as-shit tunes so early on in the running order is questionable at best. Perhaps Guy-Manuel’s kitten got run over just as they were mastering the album. Hang in there, dude.
Capsule summary: this album is good but also very long and slightly bonkers. And we still want our own robot helmets. Why don’t they sell any through the website? They’d make a fortune.
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