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Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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I don’t think there has been an album that has brought forward such levels of anticipation as this for an awfully long time. I mean sure they did the Tron soundtrack and the distinctly mediocre Human After All, but in reality this is the gallic duo’s first proper album since 2001. For those of you who are a little numerically challenged, that’s a dozen years ago. I myself was sitting my GCSEs.

Anyhow, they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that certainly appears to be the case with Daft Punk. Discovery was a very good album, but it was hardly groundbreaking. It was also only their second release and it didn’t even go to the top of the charts on these shores. But 12 years down the line and there appears a sort of rabid clamour for the long-awaited Random Access Memories. The world wants this album, nay the world needs this album.

Lead single, the Pharrell Williams-fronted Get Lucky, was gobbled up by a hungry public, hooked on its infectious bassline and funky guitar. It’s still number 1 in the charts at time of writing, a position it has occupied for three weeks, which means it’s hotter than Nigel Farage. RAM is out on Monday and one suspects that, were it a book about wizards or a tech product, nutjobs would be queuing round the block to buy it on Sunday night.

From the start of the album, it is obvious that Get Lucky was no curveball in terms of the band’s new direction. For the most-part you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Chic or Sister Sledge, which I guess is no surprise given the presence of 70’s disco king Nile Rodgers on about half the tracks. Lengthy third track Giorgio by Moroder is quite an odd song to say the least, named after and featuring spoken vocals by legendary Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, the song finally kicks in after two minutes sounding like a tribute to fellow French synth pioneer Jean-Michelle Jarre before going into a bit of jazz and so on…

Instant Crush, sung by a heavily autotuned Julian Casablancas (of the Strokes), is a personal highlight, while Lose Yourself To Dance (feat Pharrell Williams again) is so similar to Get Lucky that it might as well be the B-side to the single. Touch is decent, even if Paul Williams’ vocals sound a bit like they have been lifted from Les Miserables (and I can’t work out if that’s a good or bad thing).

There follows a continuation of the theme in a very much “we’re Daft Punk and we piss these tunes out for fun” sort of way. Until the end of the album, where there is an absolutely superb song called Contact, which actually breaks away from the whole 70’s throwback mould with one of the most awesome crescendos in the history of dance music and culminating in a wall of feedback. It’s a proper dance track, the sort that Vitalic or many of the more traditional French DJs might create, and after the trip to funkytown it is almost welcome.

I realize at this stage that I am sounding a bit scornful of the rest of the album, and it’s not really my intention. It is a very good release and is going to be bigger than Jesus, but for me it’s tapping a genre that can fall quickly into mediocrity. There’s no doubt that when it’s good, some of the songs here are among the best you’ll hear this year, but on the flipside there are a few that verge on the drawer marked “elevator music”.

This is a love letter to the 70’s and the birth of disco by two of the finest musicians around at the moment. It’s very, very good, but in my opinion contains one or two tracks that will hold it back from greatness. Justifying its own hype would have been an impossible task, but Random Access Memories has a fair crack at it.

By Harry Harland

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