We tell you about what we’re reading, what we’re watching and now what we’re listening to… must be because of our exquisite taste. Here, Charlie gets excited about Daft Punk’s latest album, Random Access Memories.
(Note: This piece was originally written in the middle of May, just prior to the album’s release)
The last twelve months have seen a number of long-dormant/on indefinite hiatus music acts return with new albums – Godspeed You! Black Emperor (nine years since the last album), David Bowie (ten years), Boards of Canada (eight years) and My Bloody Valentine (twenty-two years! ) – but the one I’m looking forward to the most is out next week. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is their first studio album since 2005, and I’m desperate to hear it. Even if it’s a big disappointment. Though it won’t be. Probably. Hopefully.
There’s probably three albums that made me a music fan – Is This It by The Strokes, Since I Left You by The Avalanches and Daft Punk’s second album Discovery. Worryingly, I can still remember buying the latter in the summer of 2001. I’d caught the animated video for the band’s single Digital Love and fallen in love with the song. I’d even bought the single on CD (people still did that then). The album was even better than I’d expected though – Discovery is and remains a stunning album, one of the best of the 2000s. In particular the first seven tracks or so are just gloriously euphoric dance music. The ‘cheese’ factor is high throughout, with the shiny discoball feel of it all, the vocoders/synth-guitars, the rather corny lyrics. OK, very corny lyrics. In less capable hands it’d be disastrous. But Daft Punk make gold from these components. If you’re not dancing at some point, you should probably check your pulse. And I say that as the world’s biggest stick in the mud. However, it was clear that this polished ‘let’s chuck in everything including the kitchen sink’ sound wasn’t for everyone, I remember the reviews and general opinion being somewhat divided at the time. Some fans of their excellent, more house music-based debut Homework (which I subsequently bought) disliked the direction the band had gone in, and some people just found it all generally insufferable. But I was hooked. If I’m ever in a great mood, I’ll play Discovery.
Daft Punk took four years to produce a studio follow-up to Discovery, and Human After All felt like a thudding disappointment at time. It just sounded so uninspired. I’ve softened my stance on it since then (and the album has its defenders), there’s a clutch of great songs on there, and it’s not a bad album as such. But it still feels uninspired, from an act capable of a lot more. For a time it seemed like the naysayers would have the last laugh. But over the latter half of the 2000s, things began to turn around. There was a triumphant return to live performances (captured on the great live album Alive 2007), Kanye West sampling the band on his song Stronger, and influential music website/insufferable hipster music website (delete according to opinion) Pitchfork ranking Discovery as the third greatest album of the 2000s. But things remained silent on the studio album front. There was the soundtrack to Tron: Legacy of course, but this felt more like a typical movie soundtrack that just happened to be done by Daft Punk rather than something that was distinctly Daft Punk. The occasional rumours of a new album had become an ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ thing for me. Which brings us to this year . . .
Random Access Memories is probably the first album I can remember that has united me and various people I know in anticipation, even with our widely disparate music tastes. Daft Punk have become the musical equivalent of Ferris Bueller seemingly, liked by people from all sorts of differing and opposing music cliques. Like David Bowie’s recent The Next Day and next month’s Boards of Canada album, whoever’s behind the marketing and promotion of Random Access Memories probably deserves a medal for the way they’ve drip-fed information and kept the mystery going. It’s easy to forget amidst all the fuss that until yesterday they’d only put out one song (Get Lucky) from the album, which was preceded by endless fake versions online – and even the official version was a radio edit! I like Get Lucky a lot, but I hope there’s better to come on the album. In truth I still have genuinely no idea what to expect. I wonder how the various collaborators, ranging from Giorgio Moroder to Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, will work within the songs. Of course I could just download it now before I buy it next week, but at this point I’d rather just wait, if only because by next week the immediate reactions of ‘best album ever!’ and ‘it’s crap wake up sheeple!’ might have settled down a little. There have been a scattering of official reviews so far (Q magazine gave the album five stars, but I won’t let that put me off), and the only common theme in those so far has been not to expect a repeat of their earlier work. Monday 20th May can’t come soon enough. Unless the album isn’t very good. But it will be. Probably. And if isn’t, even if it’s this decade’s equivalent of Be Here Now, I’ll always have Homework and Discovery.