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Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (2013) semi-pointless track-by-track review

May 14, 2013
daft-punk-random-access-memories-artwork
Roll: N/A
Album: Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

This is the only album on this site I haven’t purchased. Having purchased an album, I feel like that gives me free-reign to crap all over it if I want. Also, if I bought it and it’s stayed in my collection long enough to end up on this site, that probably means I like it. Anyway, I’m only reviewing Random Access Memories now because yesterday I was being pressured to listen to the pre-release iTunes stream by a Facebook friend.

He said, “You’re not going to listen to it. Come on.”

I said, “The track I heard from it was a pale shadow of their former selves. Also, that PR campaign was irritating.”

He said, “If by irritating you actually mean brilliant, then yes.”

A day later, curiosity has gotten the better of me and I’m listening to the stream. So far, two tracks in, I haven’t shaken my impression that Daft Punk are past their prime and have kind of been shark-jumped by their own image.

Give Life Back To Music” is sort of okay dance music but there’s not much oomph here. The kick drum should be crunching more. The melodies are begging me to find them alluring but they seem a bit shallow for all their glitter. Also, is vocoder going to be used on every song? I suspect they recorded “The Game of Love” without a vocoder and realized it’s one of the most tuneless pop-songs ever written. The vocoder evokes Discovery nicely but at this point in their career the gimmick feels like treading water.

This “Giorgio by Moroder” track with the voice-overs is one of the most pretentious things I’ve ever heard on a disco record. It also kind of devolves into a meandering, pointless Tron outtake. Okay, this Herbie Hancock-esque electric piano noodling is kind of rad (not as rad as an actual Hancock album though). I wish I could fast-forward a stream; this 80’s TV-show theme section is tedious. “Ah, good a Magnum, P.I. style guitar break!” said no one ever.

Next up: a soft-rock piano ballad with a vocoder trying to disguise the fact that the song  isn’t any good. Reminds me of Robert Miles (whom I’ve spent almost two decades trying to forget).

Julian Casablancas is singing this next song, only half-disguised by a vocoder and/or autotune. Why have a guest singer on and then shroud their voice in electronic tricks? Well, I guess the vocal processing  the only vaguely interesting this about this song.

Finally! The disco is back with “Lose Yourself To Dance“. Well, they haven’t vocoded Pharrell‘s voice which is making this one stand out from the pack. It’s not really much of a song though. The speak-and-spell “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon…” counter-refrain is kind of  a catchy hook. Kind of.

Touch” is starting out promising. An abstract Logan’s Run kind of sci-fi intro. Now it’s morphed into a Jacques Brel cabaret ballad something like Marc Almond might do. Super slick seventies schmaltz. As you’d expect from Paul Williams (who has not been vocoded, thank god). Unfortunately, it goes in about two dozen different directions instead of focusing on one melody or idea. This is the highlight of the album so far.

Pharrell’s back with “Get Lucky“, the lead single that prompted me to say “pale shadow of their former selves.” I still think it lacks that special something Daft Punk used to have but I have to admit it’s the closest thing so far to an actual choon. That doesn’t mean it’s not just a rehash of all the good bits from Discovery. I also feels like the mediocrity of everything leading up to this point is making the song sound better than it actually is. And it’s making me wish all the songs had more of a beat. It’s highlighting how undanceable most of the album is.

Now we have a pretentiously epic string introduction to “Beyond” which is a tuneless mid-tempo vocoder-heavy track. Kind of like a Spandau Ballet ballad without a real melody. Again the vocoder is being used to disguise the how tuneless the song actually is. The track does end well on a nice avant-garde note. The boys do have some real studio-wizard chops they pull out now and then. Or is this the intro to the next track? I’m guessing this is now “Motherboard” by the retro-futurist synth arpeggios that aren’t really going anywhere—another Tron redux.

Okay, it was indeed “Motherboard” because Todd Edwards is now singing “Fragments of Time“. A mid-tempo Doobie Brothers-style blue eyed soul track with a bit more of that new romantic groove from “Beyond”. It’s kind of like the music for a comic montage of Mary Tyler-Moore shopping for a new frock to impress an old flame. Gross. This is worse than anything Phil Collins ever recorded and anyone who says different is deluding themselves (I mean, each to their own, but seriously… this simply isn’t a good song).

Panda’s Bear‘s contribution, “Doin’ It Right“, is the first intriguing or progressive sounding track. But the bass better drop soon. It’s just sort of limping along. Kind of like how actual panda bears are going extinct because they don’t know how to do it. Okay, it’s over and the bass never dropped.

Well, I’m at the end. Here’s the closer: “Contact“. Let’s see if the Punks end things on a huge, epic bang.

Arpeggios and nice syncopated drum beat…. a series of builds based on a circle of fifths chord progression… It’s basically music for the final scene in a film where a pair of estranged lovers are trying to get to each other through a crowd of people in a packed subway station. Like in Crocodile Dundee, but with more of a sense of urgency. Like maybe they have to not only kiss passionately, while the crowd applauds them with a slow clap, but also release an antigen that will save New York City from the terrorists’ virus plot as well.

I mean, if it had been written for a movie soundtrack, it’d be perfect. But this is supposedly a pop album (though it’s been suspiciously lacking in actual pop songs) and this was probably the most pretentious ending they could have devised. Well, it could have had a voice-over of  Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan talking about the universe during the fade out. That would have made it more even more pretentious and just might have tipped it over the edge into a vortex of awesome absurdity.

But they didn’t do that.

For the truncated version of this review on the 2013 Rolling Round-Up of Recent Releases page, I gave Random Access Memories 2.5 Robot discos out of 5 Admittedly impressive and apparently successful marketing campaigns.

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4 comments

  1. You are an angry loser.


    • I prefer the term “livid”. It’s sort of alliterative with “loser”. Lame Livid Loser has a nice ring to it.


  2. I agree with a good portion of what you said, but Fragments Of Time is the strongest song for me, Get Lucky could have been a lot better.


    • I liked Neil Tennant’s take on it in Pop Justice: “Although with Daft Punk it’s exciting to think they’ve worked with Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers. It’s a soft rock album really, isn’t it?… It feels like a very interesting and luxuriously created and expensive record and the idea is presented that this isn’t the sort of thing people do nowadays, although if you go to Los Angeles or Nashville you’ll find people doing that seven days a week. But they don’t have a computerised vocal on it.”



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