Daft Punk "Random Access Memories" (Review)

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is the sound of a heart-broken robot mourning for their lost lover.  It is the bounce and boogie coming from a dance party light years away; a well-oiled machine built from funk, disco, rock and electronica.  Daft Punk’s most recent album is full of sounds that seem to be coming from the past, present and future. 

Daft Punk is a French electronic music duo best known for their high energy dance songs, excellent musical ability, and identity as robots.  Random Access Memories continues Daft Punk’s legacy as dance pioneers, but collaborators including Nile Rogers (Chic) and Giorgio Moroder (song-writer for Donna Summer) provide a clear link to disco and a heavy influence from yesteryear.  This is appropriate, since modern electronic music has inherited disco’s reverence of dance as one of the best forms of human expression, an end unto itself.  This album is designed to make the listener get up and then get down. 

One distinguishing feature of Random Access Memories is the highs and lows that exist from song to song.  For every tune about love and excitement, there is one about crushing isolation or yearning for another.  Happily, the album’s positive energy blunts the edges of the sadder songs, and reminds the listener how fun Daft Punk can be.  The album has a wonderful sense of variety.  Soulful songs tinged with sadness exist alongside high tempo, exuberant jams that give a sense of shifting balance.  The instrumentation also alternates between traditional rock guitars and drums to more of an electronic sound, but Daft Punk uses both methods to good effect. 

“Get Lucky”, the first single, represents the upbeat side of the album, a song about a young man’s not so hidden intentions as he parties until dawn with the object of his desire.  It’s a very danceable song, and features vocals by Pharrell and the duo’s own roboticized voices.  Fans of Daft Punk are likely to love it, as it represents a continuation of the style they’ve always been known for.  The playful lyrics, the fun melody, the groovy beat, and sci-fi effects are all present. 

As futuristic as some of their instruments and outfits are, Daft Punk are also masters of the classics, including guitar, drum and bass.  Their strings on the song “Motherboard” blend with the synthesizer so well one could imagine them performing in an 18th century French music hall with velvet coats and powdered wigs covering their robot heads.  It is refreshing to hear electronic music that doesn’t solely consist of sounds coming from a computer.  Daft Punk are experts of digital and analog, and their skills are on full showcase. 

The few flaws on the album are related to a near over-inclusion of collaborators.  The song “Georgio by Moroder” features an extended interview excerpt that overshadows the music and lengthens an already long song.  It’s good to listen to once, or perhaps as an extended cut, but embedding it into a song means the listener can’t easily skip over it, and will hear it over and over.  Some collaborators also seem to eclipse Daft Punk themselves on certain tracks.  “Touch”, for example, sounds more like Paul Williams featuring Daft Punk than Daft Punk featuring Paul Williams.  His vocals, not Daft Punk’s instrumentals, are the most important aspect of the song.  Luckily, as in “Get Lucky” featuring Pharrell, when the collaborations work, they work incredibly well, and are good enough to excuse the less stellar examples.

Random Access Memories is a well-balanced composition, and provides a welcome return for Daft Punk.  It makes me excited for what the band still has yet to come.  The final song on the album, “Contact” climbs to an enormous crescendo before finally bursting like a balloon filled with glitter, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the aftermath.