Trial by tracklist: Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’
Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories won’t be released until May 17, but as we already know the tracklist we basically know what to expect. Why wait for the actual music when the song titles reveal so much?
With the scientifically tested slow drip of information – most of it coming from a group of session musicians and technical boffins – Daft Punk’s return has been all about robots, mystery, robots, anticipation and robots. But what no one has admitted yet is that Random Access Memories is basically 2001: A Space Odyssey – the album, except with Daryl Braithwaite and The Sherbs instead of Johann Strauss.
Like 2001, Random Access Memories won’t make much sense, but goddamn it’ll be pretty. It’s a marvel of modern technology, years of painstaking work in the making and much better under the influence. The Daft Punk record actually matches up perfectly with 2001 if you start the album as soon as your drugs kick in.
We already have a few actual tidbits of information via an interview with the duo in the May issue of GQ. We know there’s a “melancholy robotic voice that haunts much of the album.” We know the album rejects modern dance sounds in favour of the kind of “sweet, sad, sexy sounds that ruled the airwaves before their fanbase was born”. We know “the disco-connoisseur-y songs outnumber the potential pop smashes by a ratio of about 4 to 1.” And we know the record is “totally, breathtakingly self-indulgent”.
And that’s probably all we need to know to present the first track-by-track review of Random Access Memories in the world.
Give Life Back to Music (featuring Nile Rodgers, Paul Jackson, Jr.)
When you want to redefine dance music you hire a bunch of session musicians with credits on albums from Barbra Streisand, Lionel Richie, Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston and Chicago. With fusion/urban jazz maestro Paul Jackson Jnr, session drummer John Robinson and Chic’s guitarist Nile Rodgers on hand, the opening track on Daft Punk’s new album is deeply “smooove”. In fact this retro groove is as smooth, overworked and highly polished as the breasts on a life-size statue of Alison Brie in a year eight classroom at an all-boys school on a desert island.
The Game of Love
Taking inspiration from the album’s title, this touching vocoder-driven ballad features a series of random memories from the malfunctioning hard drive of a computer as it drifts into deep space madness. Imagine if HAL had loved Dave rather than wanting to kill him and tried to show his feeling by serenading him with garbled lines from Burt Bacharach tunes. While much of the advance word on the album has focused on the collaborators, the true star of Random Access Memories is the unnamed robot hero at the centre of the album’s narrative. Yes, Random Access Memories is a concept record.
Giorgio by Moroder (featuring Giorgio Moroder)
Nine minutes of an Italian electronic producer taking about his life and times over the sound of a stuttering click track! This patience tester is to Random Access Memories what ‘Teachers’ was to Homework – a musical history lesson reminiscent of the groundbreaking work released by late ‘70s electro pioneer Dr Skip Button.
Within (featuring Gonzales)
The shortest track on the record is a minimal, introspective piano number not far removed from Air’s ‘How Does It Make You Feel?’. The existential number featuring Chilly Gonzales on piano sees the return of our friend the melancholy robot and his misty eyed take on what is truly means to have emoticons instead of actual emotions. â˜¹
Instant Crush (featuring Julian Casablancas)
After a nine-minute epic and a Gonzales’ calming piano track, the album needs something to kickstart the party and thankfully Julian Casablancas is available to power through ‘Instant Crush’. Having tried our patience with meandering maudlin tunes, ‘Instant Crush’ marks the point where the album shifts into gear and the influence of The Cars drives the track forward with the biggest hooks of the record so far. There’s also an “angular” guitar solo – that’s the sound Casablancas makes when he breathes.
Lose Yourself to Dance (featuring Pharrell Williams)
Finally a genuine dance track! The Daft duo have helpfully included the word “dance” in the title just in case we miss the point. While Pharrell demands that we lose ourselves, brief hiccups from the melancholy robot offer a reminder of the tragedy at the centre of the album – that our hero has no “self” to lose. The increasingly frantic drumming is a clear reference to the opening “wild” scenes of 2001 before the apes are touched by alien intelligence, which neatly brings us to the next track.
Touch (featuring Paul Williams)
According to a recent interview with Daft Punk, ‘Touch’ is the “crux of the album” and the starting point for the whole thing. The eight-minute epic features 250 tracks and is a complicated meditation on what it is to be human. Dance music has never been this philosophical and philosophy has never been this danceable.
Get Lucky (featuring Pharrell Williams)
After all that abstract philosophising on the human touch it’s time for a touch of disco about getting a little human contact at the end of a night at the local meat market. With Don Pharrell on vocals and a classic guitar line from Nile Rodgers leading the way, the melancholy robot sits this one out watching the action from the sidelines. The track is the obvious choice as the album’s lead single and sits a little awkwardly with the album’s overall mood and narrative, but you don’t get away with big budget concept albums without sneaking in a single to pay for the grand folly.
Beyond (featuring Paul Williams)
The single dispensed with, Daft Punk get back to the message of the album with ‘Beyond’ which reprises the ideas of ‘Touch’ with a post-coital glow. Features Pharrell’s dad.
2001 is so 1999 years ago. This track, which takes place in the year 4000, suggests that even in the distant future no one will have surpassed Steely Dan when it comes to studio perfection and precision. Featuring some of the album’s most poignant (and unintentionally amusing) lyrics, ‘Motherboard’ sees our robotic hero coming to the realisation that he’s truly alone in space. The West-Coast cool of Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers and the Eagles was mentioned as a key influence on the album, but the key touchstone for ‘Motherboard’ is clearly 10CC’s ‘I’m Not In Love’. Daft Punk’s “Alive” tour may have celebrated the wonder of technicolour lighting, but this tune is a pale watercolour in comparison.
Fragments of Time (featuring Todd Edwards)
This disco-tinged track begins with a series of delicate synth washes but develops into a joyous, quasi-religious celebration of living in the now. “This moment is now but not forever/Forever is just a moment away,” the robot sagely notes.
Doin’ It Right (featuring Panda Bear)
According to GQ, this is the only purely electronic piece on the album. Panda Bear basically gets to sneak a solo track onto one of the most anticipated albums of the past decade”. So the question here isn’t what does a Daft Punk song called ‘Doin’ It Right’ sound like but what does a Panda Bear song called ‘Doin’ It Right’ sound like. And a bit of dreamy psychedelia on a Daft Punk album is fine with us.
Contact (featuring DJ Falcon, The Sherbs)
Take a sample of ‘70s Aus rock band The Sherbs and a sample of captain Eugene Cernan from the Apollo 17 mission talking about aliens and you have the foundations for a suitably epic closer. The final track on the album builds with layer upon layer of orchestral and synthesizer riffs that rise to a final piercing gong note before fading out with a nod to the Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’, which in turn fades out into the infinity of space.