So, here we are, ladies and gents. After months of speculation, hints, teasers, interviews, and rumours, it’s finally here. Random Access Memories. Undoubtedly the most anticipated album of 2013, and arguably of the 2010s thus far; an album that has blown up music news outlets and social media sites alike with the merest mention of new release information. With that in mind, let’s just establish at this point that few albums deserve the level of hype that has been heaped upon RAM, so we could probably forgive Daft Punk for not quite living up to expectations. We know already, of course, that “Get Lucky” is one of the most infectious pop songs of recent years, and at the time of writing has been sitting atop the UK singles chart for two weeks. Time, then, to find out what Thomas and Guy have got in store for us in the other twelve tracks.
One thing that becomes abundantly clear in the first instance is that this is not, repeat not, an electronic music album. Though the robots’ trademark vocoded vocals are present throughout, anyone coming into RAM expecting the electro stylings of Discovery or the Chicago-influenced house of Homework will most likely be disappointed. Daft Punk have made their intentions for the album clear in recent interviews, stating their desire to move away from the electronic instrumentation for which they have become renowned, and moving towards ‘real’ instruments – hence the title of the opener, “Give Life Back to Music”. The first of three tracks to feature Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, it trundles along comfortably, perhaps eliciting a nod of the head or a tap of the toe, warming you up nicely for more.
With the following tracks comes the confirmation that this album is firmly rooted in musical nostalgia. “The Game of Love” is a laidback, almost jazzy jam, while “Giorgio by Moroder” is a sprawling nine-minute history lesson featuring an autobiographical speech by producer and disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder. A slow-burner, but definitely one of the album’s highlights, it reaches its climax around six minutes in with a thrilling string section, complex drumming, a wandering bassline, and (for some reason) vinyl scratching.
The next couple of songs unfortunately come across like filler material. “Within”, featuring Chilly Gonzalez, starts off promisingly with a beautiful piano line, but ultimately trudges along at a frustratingly slow pace, and is offset by misplaced robotic vocals that really don’t belong on this kind of track. Similarly, “Instant Crush” just doesn’t seem to have any drive behind it; it’s never a good sign when you spend most of the song willing it to finish so you can get on with the rest of the album. It also invokes Wham’s “Last Christmas” upon first listen (but maybe that’s just me).
“Lose Yourself to Dance”, the first track to feature both Rodgers and Pharrell, starts with a rumbling bassline and noodling guitar, before Pharrell’s falsetto cements the groove. It’s a wonderful homage to the disco era, but still has Daft Punk’s stamp all over it. Great stuff. “Touch” starts off slowly enough with a Jean-Michel Jarre-esque intro, and the vocal of Paul Williams backed by 70’s wah-wah guitar. For a brief moment it seems as though it will deliver, as it explodes into an impressive chorus, but then it’s all downhill until the end, with another three uninspiring minutes of spacey synths and a choir.
Skipping past the ubiquitous “Get Lucky”, the next tracks are mostly uninspiring, with “Beyond” featuring a passable mid-tempo guitar riff but little else of note and “Motherboard” almost coming sounding like an instrumental from a 70s prog-rock band. It’s by this point that RAM starts to come across as self-indulgent, and it definitely sounds like music made by men who haven’t released an album in eight years. By the time the country and Western-tinged “Fragments of Time” rolls around, you may start to wonder why the album didn’t end a few tracks ago, I know I did. That said, closer “Contact” is somewhat redeeming, and is something of a release after the previous few tracks – becoming more and more cacophonous and ending in screeching metallic noise.
While it would be wrong to dismiss RAM completely, it’s certainly not an easy listen, and will probably be too ambitious/outside the box/bloated/crap (depending on your opinion) for most people to really enjoy. While it is mostly well-structured and very accomplished musically, and shows flashes of brilliance like only Daft Punk (and ‘the collaborators’) can, few of the tracks have the same electrifying magic as their classic material.
… Will is listening to Defected Presents ‘MK In the House’