After 8 years, Daft Punk has finally returned to music with Random Access Memories. RAM is unlike anything Daft Punk has released before, although the clear progression the group has shown from album to album carries to this release as well (barring the forgettable Tron: Legacy soundtrack, something of a diversion in which to indulge their experimental leanings, and some of the more inconsequential aspects of Human After All). The album features the group paying homage to the music that inspired them in their youth during the 70’s and 80’s – disco, prog, and synthpop all shows on RAM, and the group even collaborated with some of their heroes for the album, including Giorgio Moroder, who has his own spoken-word track with accompaniment by epic guitar and synth soloing. It’s a pure nostalgia album that makes it easy to see why the duo fell in love with this music when they were just starting out.
Opening track “Give Life Back to Music” is a great start to the album, linking the band’s earlier, more modern work with this new, nostalgic affair, harking back to earlier pieces, like Discovery’s “Something About Us” and “Short Circuit” or Human After All’s “Make Love.” Indeed, just as those tracks could easily have fit onto this release, a number of tracks on this album, “Touch” for instance, could have easily been a deep track on Discovery. Still, there is enough different about that track and the album as a whole that make a direct comparison to anything they’ve done before seem inadequate. Over the whole album there’s a sad, brooding quality to it, especially in the semi-suite between “Giorgio by Moroder,” the track that indulged every one of Daft Punk’s prog-rock fantasies, and “Get Lucky,” the album’s lead single, which makes those four songs sound like the hungover aftermath of a cocaine-fueled night in the city. There is much the songs share with glam rock like David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy or Suede’s “Dog Man Star,” thematically as well as sonically, in this regard. As for the aforementioned single, it’s an instant classic in the group’s canon, and it’s success with critics as well as mainstream radio is a testament to the group’s expert craftsmanship. It is a spot-on tribute to the era of disco. But it’s perfection as well as the album’s raises one concern I have with the album – if the album were made by any less able group, I would call it monotone, boring drudgery. What I mean by that is that the group has made this album so well, it almost wears out its theme. You can only go so far with the nostalgia theme, and in many places I’m left wondering where there is left to go with any one idea. There’s nothing wrong with crafting an album so consistent in its theme and purpose, but is this really what Daft Punk is? Where the group has shined in the past was not so much in its ability to deliver on a promised theme which stands above the actual music (probably a concern which resulted in Discovery’s initially mixed reviews), but in its playfulness and witty attention. Their sense of irony is part of what made Homework such a classic, but it is explicably lacking here.
It all leaves me wondering where this release places the group in the larger context of the electronic dance music scene, and where they can go from here. Much has changed in the time since Human After All, with LCD Soundsystem taking what Daft Punk started to a logical indie-rock conclusion, and the advent of chillwave, dubstep, and various species of house revival and reinvention changing what EDM fans expected from the artists they admired. Maybe a nostalgia record is the best thing they could have done in this climate, but does it place them above their younger competition, or woefully outside of this scene? Is Daft Punk simply its own beast at this point? Sure, they’ve won critical praise and mainstream success unlike what they’ve seen before, but the scene they helped create is a far different place than what they left, and I fear perhaps they may have abandoned their posts as innovators to become the U2 of EDM.
Recommended Tracks: Instant Crush, Lose Yourself To Dance, Get Lucky, Doin’ It Right.