Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Album Reviews

Confused? You should be.



Label: Columbia
Released: 20th May 2013
Reviewer: Emma Swann
“Sad robot”. These are the latest words frantically scrawled on the notepad in front of me as I'm sat in a room at label Columbia's west London offices listening to the most-hyped album in recent (ahem) memory. While stifling a giggle – there are two other journalists beside me, plus the band's PR – it's at this point the fact 'Random Access Memories' is not going to be an ordinary album becomes very evident.

'Get Lucky' is to be released the following day, but thanks to the impatience of a Dutch radio DJ, it's well on the way to becoming the song of the year already. A perfectly-proportioned pop song, the mash-up of Nile Rodgers' trademark licks and the unmistakeable presence of Pharrell Williams has proved irresistible. That one track could reach the Number One slot in as many territories as this has seems incredible in itself; that numerous digital wizards were looping the 15-second clips premiered at Coachella and causing online frenzy for days following is just part of the story.

And yet all the clever marketing – the strategically-placed billboards, the imagery, the hitherto silence of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – is completely forgotten by the point track two kicks in. By the end of the thirteenth – nothing. Speechless, or as the equivalent note scrawled on the same notepad, “WTF?”.

In the run-up to any real information on 'Random Access Memories', we heard a lot about collaboration. Guest appearances on albums are nothing new – or indeed special; roping in one's famous friends appears to be par for the course, whether it's The National's neighbours Sharon Van Etten and Annie Clark, or Queens Of The Stone Age's new friends Elton John and Jake Shears to name a recent few. But where those might mean additional vocals or instrumentation, here Daft Punk have almost fused completely with their co-protagonists. Within about three seconds of 'Lose Yourself To Dance' – by the time the first handclap appears – you know it's the work of Pharrell. 'Instant Crush' sounds like a Strokes song fed through a vocoder, and not just because we're over-familiar with Julian Casablancas' vocals. And while 'Giorgio By Moroder' gives the game away in its title, there's no mistaking the synth patterns on show.

And then there's Nile. His licks may have made 'Get Lucky' a 21st Century disco anthem, but with opener 'Give Life Back To Music', they're more like a time-machine: in fact, that, the melancholy slow-paced follower 'The Game Of Love', and then Moroder's monologue-come-deconstruction of disco, mean that by the time the 'sad robot' utters “I am lost, I can't even remember my name” over Gonzales' wistful piano, a plot has formed.

OK, so it's hardly a conspiracy theory. The album's title refers to computer memory. Our 'sad robot' is surrounded by the sounds of the 70s; he can't remember who he is. It's all gone a bit 'Life On Mars', and through both Casablancas' 2001-channeling self, and Pharrell's early-00s dancefloor hegemony we're taken back ourselves. 'Touch', which features veteran American singer-songwriter Paul Williams only serves to confirm it. “I remember dancing,” he says, “I remember touch”. Our largest note here is “BATSHIT”, and it's hard to know where to begin. A re-birth, perhaps. Filmic sound effects surround what first builds to a full-on musical theatre interpretation of disco before breaking down completely amid space-age effects and ominous strings, while a choir repeats “hold on / if love is the answer you'll know”. Then on re-starting the strings are calmer, and the choir younger, while Williams croons “touch, sweet touch, you've almost convinced me I'm real”. If Daft Punk have spoken of their boredom with electronics and created a full-band record as 'Random Access Memories' is, could this be their Pinocchio moment?

Because if it's not the epic drums on the DJ Falcon-featuring closer 'Contact', it's the woodwind making an appearance on 'Motherboard', or the jazz breakdown in 'Giorgio By Moroder'. In fact it's the vocoder vocals – Panda Bear's 'Doin' It Right' case in point, with its refrain “if you're doing it right / everybody will be dancing” - which feel strange, not the analogue.

Confused? You should be. 'Random Access Memories' is, for all the DJ-on-camera dancing hype, an album in the proper sense of the word; these aren't thirteen dancefloor ready bangers, it's a grandiose statement of intent. A scientific deconstruction of disco, perhaps, with all the workings out left to see. Even in a nondescript room in an office, just one play through, as the static radio signals of final track 'Contact' eventually die, it's as if we've been on one epic journey.
Rating: 9/10
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