Daft Punk, 'Random Access Memories': Track-By-Track Review
There's a point on "Doin' It Right," the penultimate track on Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories," where the album's utter lack of post-modern ambitions smacks the listener in the face. "Everybody will be dancing and be feeling all right!" the French electronic duo coo as the bass snaps into place, and soon, Animal Collective singer Panda Bear leaps into the fray to declare, "If you lose your way tonight, that's how you know the magic's right!" These are lines that complement each other in their un-ironic absurdity: blindingly optimistic and staggeringly direct, the phrases overlap and cut into each other in the hopes of making any dead-eyed sourpuss to turn that frown upside down. There are moments on "Random Access Memories" that try to innovate in the way that only Daft Punk knows how to do, but there are more moments like that time on "Doin' It Right," where Daft Punk dismiss all the artistic hullabaloo and just want to entertain again, after years of deciding not to do so. On "Touch," an eight-minute opus featuring Paul Williams, the singer tries to "remember" touch and searches for something more to feel; following the influx of anonymous EDM sifting across stereos, Daft Punk wants its fans to remember the simple moments that made them who they are today.
"Random Access Memories" (which began streaming on iTunes on May 13, but was previewed to Billboard earlier this month) is a messy album, filled with passages that can be trimmed and one or two too many plodding songs. But it's also fantastic to hear these masterminds trying again, after shrugging off their third album, "Human After All," as an improvisational crapshoot and waltzing through the "Tron: Legacy" soundtrack for some unknown reason. When Daft Punk score on "R.A.M.," like they do with both Pharrell Williams collaborations and on the killer Julian Casablancas track "Instant Crush," dance music fans can sit back and marvel at the results before finding their legs and reporting to the dance floor. Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have made an analog album that's less of a "throwback" and more of a salute to the idols that would now do anything to hop on the duo's full-length. There are wide eyes underneath those robot helmets, and music fans have waited a long time to peer through them for 74 minutes; let go of the mammoth expectations, dance and feel all right.
Which songs on "Random Access Memories" are worth repeated listens? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of Daft Punk's new album, due out May 21 on Columbia/Sony.
1. Give Life Back To Music - The Daft Punk "Welcome Back!" party kicks off with Nile Rodgers turning back the clock and decisively rejecting anything resembling contemporary electronic music. "Give Life Back To Music" confirms that "Get Lucky" was not a red herring, but a hint at the celebratory 70s vibe pulsing through the veins of "Random Access Memories."
2. The Game of Love - The album's recurring formula of big drums, sleek guitar moves and programmed vocals is dutifully presented in a patient, down-tempo package. As interesting as the production details are, it's hard not to imagine what "The Game of Love" would have sounded like with an R&B vocalist breathing humanity into these words.
3. Giorgio by Moroder - An interesting idea -- Italian dance king Giorgio Moroder talks about his various music experiences and tricks of the trade before Daft Punk take the reins and pump the jams -- is harder to swallow when pinned as the longest song and crucial third track of the album. A better tribute would have been a more cohesive song.
4. Within - "There are so many things that I don't understand," a forlorn little robot voice laments, in an A.I. ballad that sounds like a disco-fied version of the "Kid A" title track. Questions of identity abound as a simple piano line strolls forward.
5. Instant Crush feat. Julian Casablancas - Two months after the Strokes released its most experimental album to date, frontman Julian Casablancas joins DP and pairs a human-ish voice to a driving rock arrangement. With a fair amount of Vocoder dabbed into his vocals, Casablancas sounds revitalized hiding away from his iconic warble, as the dance track finds slick groove without ever becoming propulsive.
6. Lose Yourself To Dance feat. Pharrell Williams - Two tracks before "Get Lucky" strolls into views, its natural B-side featuring the same vocalist shimmies into the middle of the floor. Daft Punk's voices swirl into a pool of "Come on's" as the massive beat, flicked-off riff and thundering bass congeal into a fitting ode to sensory pleasures. "Lose Yourself To Dance" is frozen in time, so there's no shame if you want to break out the Hustle for this one.
7. Touch feat. Paul Williams - The legendary singer-songwriter Paul Williams crystallizes the robots-as-humans aesthetic of Daft Punk on a starry-eyed big band number. At eight minutes, "Touch" carries several gaudy trinkets in the palm of its hand, although its suite of gee-whiz sunniness could probably afford to blast off a little bit sooner.
8. Get Lucky feat. Pharrell Williams
Daft Punk's radio return -- that's right, it's actually in the Top 20 of the Hot 100! -- is their new album's breeziest entry: "Get Lucky" rides Nile Rodgers' chic axe work, an effectively simple hook and clipped robo-breakdown to create a warm, winning throwback. It's no "One More Time," but there's stylish fun even without transcendence.
9. Beyond - Bask in the glow of a 40-second symphonic breakdown before Daft Punk cut that elegance off, introduce a jaunty guitar line prickled by constant cymbal taps, and say things like "There's no such thing as complication" and "This is the journey of the soul." "Beyond" ends with an extended jam that should be experienced in a room adorned with many candles. Beyond triply.
10. Motherboard - An exceedingly ambitious instrumental: flutes run around the scattered rhythms, acoustic finger-picking sprouts out of drum rolls, strings are jammed into the action and the arrangement eventually evaporates into become a cloud of something far more sinister. Serenity is eventually reached, but not before multiple other worlds are unearthed.
11. Fragments of Time feat. Todd Edwards - Fans of "Face To Face" on "Discovery" will likely adore Daft Punk's new collaboration with Edwards, who plays the grinning captain on this glittery voyage. "Fragments of Time" sounds like the theme song to a classic 80s sitcom, which is a huge compliment -- "Turning our days into melodies!" Edwards beams as the synthesizers induce smiles.
12. Doin' It Right feat. Panda Bear - A Daft Punk song and a Panda Bear song are mashed together like a PBJ sandwich, as the Animal Collective member's folky yelping is folded neatly onto a digital stomp from the DP guys. "Doin' It Right" presents a fascinating contrast, although, oddly enough, Panda Bear's earnest cries are more successful than the tiresome mechanics of the Daft Punk vocals.
13. Contact - An astronaut's document of Earth sets the stage for an absolutely pummeling sandstorm of a finale, as drums are bashed, organ notes are carelessly consumed and a synth line reaches its manic threshold. Then, the entire thing collapse over and dies, as the listener exits the roller coaster ride and hopes back in line for another go-around.