Random Access Memories
Random Access Memories is one of those records where it is hard to separate the immense hype and expectations from the eventual finished product. What we ended up with is an album with perfectly executed promotion without the deep satisfaction that we expected. The album reminds me most of a microbrewery releasing a trendy new beer with slick packaging, and finding the flavors don’t mesh into the clean finish you would hope for. In the same way, Daft Punk combines disco-era sounds with their electronic home base and even what I would call plain old adult contemporary to create a most confusing brew.
Even though I am going to eventually hit on the negative, starting with the positives of Random Access Memories and working towards the disappointments seems like the right path to take. We previously praised “Get Lucky” extensively, but let me just say it is the perfect mix of Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers and Pharrell. Enough said on that. Beyond the lead single triumph, Daft Punk hits big on a couple high profile collaborations. “Instant Crush”, featuring Julian Casablancas, is probably the next tightest pop song to “Get Lucky”, and doesn’t wear out its welcome like I expected it might. The continued layering of sounds keeps matters interesting, and the little guitar riff two-thirds of the way through sends the track into a heightened gear. Similarly, Daft Punk’s skill in melding different sounds works fantastically in conjunction with the talents of Panda Bear on “Doin’ it Right”, wear the vocoder-DP vocals contrast well with Panda Bear’s pristine vocals.
With all the great collaborations out of the way, I need to take a moment to praise the closing track, “Contact”. This instrumental gem may have already surpassed “Get Lucky” as my album favorite. “Contact” is all at once a high-energy action movie of a track and deeply emotionally resonant. I typically don’t have much of a taste for instrumental tracks, but the way “Contact” starts moving in one direction and never stops makes it impossible to not get swept up.
So, there’s a summation of the only four tracks I really, really like. There is a fair amount of middling material that varies from slightly below average to kinda good. Among this type of track are the other two Nile Rodgers collaborations (“Give Life Back to Music” and “Lose Yourself to Dance”), which both disappoint because they’re not “Get Lucky” but also don’t do enough to differentiate themselves from it. Then there is “Motherboard”, which never manages to hit the next gear, and “Giorgio by Moroder”, whose voice over distracts from an otherwise very nice track.
After this grouping, we find some songs that fit pretty purely in the “adult contemporary” category. Maybe even easy listenings. “Within” carries the banner of the biggest violator, with the vocoder-voice the only thing keeping the track out of the realm of a 90’s Phil Collins-type distinction. “Touch” and “Fragments of Time” also fall into this category, and are appalling in their own right. Todd Edwards vocals on the latter are particularly painful, lacking any bite. Add this to the lazy disco backing, and you have a real awful song.
And this is where I’m torn on Random Access Memories as a whole, I’ve never been able to consider anything they’ve done “awful” before, and now I have three tracks I just can’t stand interrupting an otherwise solid album. So, sadly, I will have to resort to skipping through what I hoped would be the cohesive, perfectly orchestrated album of the summer. But hey, at least its not Mosquito.
I think the biggest issue associated with Random Access Memories is expectations vs. the actual product. I call this The Village syndrome: a movie that was marketed as a thriller and turned into anything but, though I would still argue it was a pretty decent movie. As with Daft Punk, the band known for their eye towards the future releases a disco/new wave album in RAM, which I think brilliantly blends the Daft Punk aesthetic with these classic genres.
Austin is right on the biggest highlights, especially “Doin’ It Right” which I think is a Top 3 Daft Punk song of all-time. I do contend with him on “Touch” though; the song may sound a bit cheesy with old Paul Williams singing as a robot yearning for human love, but as a whole, I think the song is pretty charming and works really well. Otherwise, I don’t feel like most of these songs stand alone well, but as a whole, these songs fit very nicely into the whole. All-in-all, this makes for a pretty wonderful summer album, even if it doesn’t quite match the heights of its legendary marketing campaign.
Aside from the occasional “Night Vision” or “Make Love” (which happens to be a great song in my opinion) sprinkled into an album, there never used to be such a thing as a soft or slow Daft Punk song. They were usually all hyper-dance tunes to which you could bob your head, flail your arms, and jump around too on the dance floor, even if it was after a slow build up. I think this is why the knee-jerk reaction to the initial listen of Random Access Memories is for people to snarl their face, furrow their brow and say, “well this isn’t Daft Punk!” What I find funny is that this seems to be Daft Punk at their most basic core. They are tapping into the roots of what their genre of french-house spawned from, and reigniting into modern electronic pop. This was the music they grew up on, this is what their MEMORIES of music are. I don’t believe that their twist and play on RAM as their album title is coincidental in that respect, and I don’t believe this album was made with the sole intention to please people on the dance floor either (although some songs still do). Instead I think it’s aimed to please those who remember where this music began, including the robots themselves.
Even if the album does contain a few snoozers like “Within” and “Beyond”, it still also contains a few of my favorite Daft Punk songs to date, which helps prove the albums merit. Austin and Wes touched well on the strong points of the album, as well as pointing out it’s flaws, but I will say that I hate to see it judged too harshly just based on what we think Daft Punk should be for us. It’s some of the better sounding music I’ve heard recorded in recent years, and I’ll be damned if I try to tear that down because it contains a few tracks that I can’t go crazy on the dance floor with. Honestly edit out two tracks, and I think you’d have one of the years best albums thus far. It’s already not too far off the way it is.
Aggregate Rating: 7.8/11
Can’t Miss: “Get Lucky” , “Contact” , “Doin’ It Right” , “Instant Crush”
Can’t Hit: “Within” , “Motherboard”