Daft Punk are no strangers to homage, and their newest album “Random Access Memories” is an all-out history lesson — and not just in genre. Of course, there’s heapings of disco along with their house music, soul with their ’70s soft rock and party-starting anthems along with the saddies. But the duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo go out of their way to introduce the influencers of their own brand of heart-beating beats, as well as collaborate with the new school of producers and music-makers that carry the banner. With that perspective, this album isn’t just a spin of a globe or as “random” as the title insinuates.
Though, on first listen, it seems that way.
Paul Williams, Giorgio Moroder and Chic’s Nile Rodgers interlope with tunes from contemporary Todd Edwards and Pharrell Williams, or with the voice of Panda Bear (Animal Collective) or The Strokes’ brat Julian Casablancas. It’s no coincidence that the acronym for the set is “RAM”: not only are these sounds their memories, but the total recall of electronic music’s pathways and connective tissues.
The result does not mean every song sounds like single “Get Lucky.” To the contrary, there’s (unfortunately) hardly any other song on this album that has the innate “hitness” of “Lucky,” though Pharrell’s other dominant vocal appearance on “Lose Yourself to Dance” has similarly memorable moments, and an incredibly close falsetto recording. But there’s a space expedition, a Broadway exposition and a ragtime jam in the middle of Paul Williams’ vibrato-heavy “Touch,” and that’s just one song; Panda Bear on “Doin’ It Right,” on the flip side, one-notes it so hard, it doesn’t notice when people have started checking their smartphones. There’s more than a half dozen brilliant keyboard turns, the live drumming on whimsically cinematic “Motherboard” and “Contact” will take your breath away, and the slurring vocal lines and vocoder on “Within” and “Game of Love” will give you a case of heart-hurt. Giorgio even gets a literal monologue about creating his brand of dance music back in his day and — bless them — that’s the third track.
Daft Punk are dextrous, and do all of these things well. Give a spin to closer “Contact,” and hear one of Daft Punks’ most hard-worked, complex and bold tracks of their career, one without vocals or what’s considered their signature sound. Shape-shifting to the organic-meets-mechanic theme, they are putting faces to their name — they’re just not their own faces most of the time. It’s an amalgam and a concept, and it’s not at all reward.
And maybe it’s this “face” that’s going to give “RAM” a reboot: the duo this week announced they’re releasing a remixed version of the album, one song at a time.
“We’re working on some mixes ourselves,” Thomas Bangalter told Radio 1’s Pete Tong. “So, yes, there will probably be Daft Punk mixes of Daft Punk. Usually, we never mix ourselves, that’s something we feel we’re interested in doing this time… The first track we’re remixing is ‘Get Lucky’. That will be out by the end of June.”
Oh well. And… oh, well!