Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have previously used their lead singles to tip their hand about the all-encompassing style of their ensuing albums; "Da Funk," "One More Time" and "Robot Rock" were not red herrings, and if "Get Lucky" is any indication, the eight-year gap between "Human After All" and "Random Access Memories" has resulted in a return to conventional, vocal-based pop music for the duo (albeit with flashier guest stars this time around). In hindsight, the leap that Daft Punk made from "Da Funk," which led 1997's "Homework" after a series of single releases, to "One More Time," the first song and standout track from 2001's "Discovery," is incredibly similar to the one they just made from "Robot Rock" to "Get Lucky." Like most of "Homework" -- which only became a full-length once Daft Punk realized that they had accumulated too many tremendous singles to simply toss out as one-offs -- "Da Funk" is throbbing and physical, wordless without being muted. That wah-wah guitar riff, which completely punctures the song's other tics, doesn't convey joy or despair as much as it tells the listener to start gyrating immediately. Meanwhile, Spike Jonze's music video for the song is just as next-level, with a man-dog strolling around the city and letting "Da Funk" play as incidental noise on its boombox. There are more propulsive songs on "Homework," from the brilliantly simple "Around The World" to the pummeling blare of "Rollin' & Scratchin'," but "Da Funk" is the most complete track with the most arresting visual. Furthermore, the song effectively denotes what you're going to get on the rest of the album -- elongated house instrumentals that rejigger their compositions with even brighter colors, like a sonic interpretation of a Tetris game. And with that formula, Daft Punk unwittingly became global dance icons.
"One More Time" was something else entirely: an un-ironic paean to pure dance euphoria, designed to give a facelift to the universal wedding playlist. Where "Da Funk" slithered on without a vocal hook to serve as an anchor, "One More Time" is founded entirely on vocal hooks, with its elastic beat supporting every word uttered out of Romanthony's Vocoder-assisted helium throat. More than anything, however, "One More Time" is memorable for the ineffable happiness emulating from its every corner. The song repeatedly commands the listener to celebrate, don't stop dancing, and feel freedom through music -- and, P.S., there's only "one more time" left, so smile harder and move more insanely than ever before. Few songs spoon-feed its audience such bare-bones bliss with nary a wink in sight, but "One More Time" amazingly leads off an entire album brimming with this unmixed mood, as songs like "Digital Love," "Harder Better Faster Stronger," "Superheroes" and even the slower "Something About Us" radiate affection through the clever guise of cold robotics. It's no coincidence that "One More Time" and "Discovery" are Daft Punk's best-selling single and album (in the digital era, at least), with 1 million downloads and 781,000 copies respectively sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "One More Time" perfectly previewed an album of tirelessly constructed, celebratory machine cries, which served as a large-hearted yang to the techno-paranoia yin of Radiohead's "Kid A," released five months earlier.
And then… "Robot Rock." The lead single from 2005's "Human After All," easily Daft Punk's least-loved album, shoves its way into plain view with four guitar stabs and the dead-eyed corresponding chant of "ROCK! RO-BOT ROCK!" Taken from an album that favored improvisation and positioned itself as the antithesis of "Discovery," "Robot Rock" indeed sounds like the rushed work of musical visionaries, with a nifty descending riff never arriving at an exit point and a stiff reliance upon its titular exclamation. "Human After All" contains purposely darker undertones than "Discovery," with songs like "Television Rules The Nation" and "The Prime Time Of Your Life" lurching forward like Kraftwerk outtakes, but the biggest problem with the album is that these slightly sinister songs never fully distinguish themselves outside of "Discovery's" long shadow. The same blueprint is still in place -- robotized vocal chants, arresting drum machine structures, fist-pumping loops -- but Daft Punk cannot ignore their impulses and pull off "disorienting" music, so most of the songs come off as undercooked ("Technologic," the album's stylish second single, is the main exception, mostly because it's the giddiest song of the 10). "Robot Rock" doesn't match "One More Time's" extended shimmer because it never tries to, and hastily evolved Daft Punk's sound into uncomfortable territory.
Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' Sets Spotify Record
Thankfully, "Get Lucky" corrects the mistakes of "Human After All" without forcing any grand ambitions onto its listeners. On its surface, the collaboration with Williams and Rodgers contains the same lyrical stakes as Cam'ron's "Hey Ma": "I'm up all night to get lucky" morphs into "We're up all night to get lucky," as two becomes one and they gon' get it on tonight, as Killa Cam might say. Similarly, Daft Punk never overplay their hand musically, riding Rodgers' axe work and clipping that breakdown to a breezy 30 seconds as Williams strikes the same easygoing chord as a frontman that he flashed on Snoop Dogg's "Beautiful" hook a decade earlier.
The differences between the new single and Daft Punk's past oeuvre are clear, though. The duo has never utilized a contemporary guest vocalist as engaging as Williams before, of course, but where their previous lead singles presented something new, "Get Lucky" is a clear throwback, recalling the exuberance of Sister Sledge more than the steely future that "Robot Rock" tried to envision. They don't skate on the cutting edge here, sonically or visually; judging by the teaser clip that featured the robot duo as the rhythm section for Williams' makeshift band, the "Get Lucky" music video won't be a conceptual somersault like "Da Funk's" clip. "Get Lucky" is not innovative in the way that "Da Funk" and "One More Time" were (and the way that "Robot Rock" tried to be), but it's not a misstep, either. Based on its lead single, "Random Access Memories" might just be Daft Punk's most chilled-out album to date -- there is a Panda Bear guest spot, after all -- and offer scoops of pop music instead of the crunchy techno of "Human After All," just as "One More Time" hinted at radio aspirations three years after the wizardry of "Homework." Maybe "Random Access Memories" will have weightier tracks that harken back to the highs of "Homework" and "Discovery," but if the forthcoming album steps lightly without reinventing the wheel, that's not the worst fate in the world, either.