As you may have heard, Daft Punk have a new album coming out. Scratch that: have a new album out. Random Access Memories won’t be officially released until May 21st, but yesterday, the French electronic duo made the album available on iTunes, breaking the Internet in the process. It’s arguably the year’s most hyped release, so obviously we’ve already listened to it four times. Here are some next-day thoughts.
1. Random Access Memories isn’t what we thought it’d be. I’m not sure it could have been. After months of buildup, beginning with a mysterious SNL promo and ending with Daft Punk opening a copy of the album in space, anything less than the GREATEST ALBUM EVER would be a let-down to many. They had to have known this (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo are all too aware of fan expectations), which is why, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense that the album is so…relaxed. There are no bone-rattling WUB WUBs or bass drops; just a smooth mashup of dance and disco that’s a lot more ambitious than it literally sounds. It’s attempting to turn something practical, a dance album, into something conceptual, a “dance album,” and in that, it mostly succeeds.
2. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Thomas Bangalter said, “Today, electronic music is made in airports and hotel rooms, by DJs traveling…It has a sense of movement, maybe, but it’s not the same vibe as going into these studios that contain specific things. You hear a song – whose track is it? There’s no signature.” Daft Punk are the godfathers of the modern EDM movement, and they’re disappointed in how their grandchildren are besmirching the family name. Random Access Memories is Daft Punk’s John Wesley Harding, the back-to-basics acoustic album Bob Dylan released in 1967 when all the former-folkies started to sound like him on Blonde on Blonde. They’re both declaration as much as they are a collection of songs: “As much as you’ll try, you’ll never be me.”
3. One of the few times the album sounds “Daft Punk-esque” (sorry) is, amusingly, its final song, “Contact.” It’s the kind of stereo speaker-blaster that would sound at home on Discovery or Tron: Legacy, all breathless build driven by organs and synths and drums that collapse into a puddle of broken noise, though there’s also a slight prog-rock tinge that keeps it in line with Random‘s genre hopping. It’s an encyclopedia of an album, with nostalgic dabs in jazz, funk, disco, classical, and adult contemporary. This ain’t your parent’s yacht rock (the yacht has wi-fi).
4. “Giorgio by Moroder” is either brilliant or terrible; no one’s ever going to accuse it of being merely “fine.” It’s the longest song on the album, placed in the all-important third track position, and broken into two parts: Giorgio Moroder’s disco expedition in one half and a jazzy future-funk beat in the other. While the instrumental portions are intoxicating (and Giorgio sounds like Paul F. Tompkins as Warner Herzog), the interview section kills the album’s momentum. Guest spots are used better elsewhere, including a Vocoder-assisted Julian Casablancas on the best Strokes song the Strokes never released (“Instant Crush”), Paul Williams (the gaudy “Touch,” which could be on the Great Gatsby soundtrack), and, of course, album standout “Get Lucky” with Pharrell Williams.
5. BUT IS IT GOOD? Yes, but. Random Access Memories is a better statement that actual album, but there’s enough good stuff in there — “Get Lucky,” “Contact” — to keep it from being a letdown. It’s Daft Punk’s most human album to date, and to be human is to have flaws. Their flaws are just a lot more funky than ours.