In early March, keen-eyed viewers of Saturday Night Live bore witness to what became the musical moment of 2013. A fifteen-second clip of a generic disco guitar and two half-masks merging into one, sparked tongues worldwide. The blogosphere exploded, and music communities began to anticipate the return of Daft Punk.
Such suspicions were only further confirmed when, at the Coachella Music and Arts festival, a longer clip of the track was played. This time it featured disco legend and founding member of Chic, Nile Rodgers, and the king of collaboration, Pharrell Williams. Lasting about a minute, the track saw crowds of people flock to the stage as, unbeknownst to the crowd, Daft Punk and Pharrell watched elated fans scramble for phones from the barrier of the VIP tent.
The beginnings of Daft Punk’s advertising of their fourth record, Random Access Memories, were by no means unorthodox, but it’s hard to think of another record that garnered such universal anticipation.
If, somehow, you’re out of the loop, Daft Punk are a French, electronic music duo who are responsible for some of the biggest dance-floor fillers of the last twenty years. If you’ve been to a club or listened to popular music since the invention of the CD, chances are you’ve heard “Harder Better Faster Stronger” or “One More Time” being blasted into a crowd of drunken revellers. Their music has been soundtracked endlessly and the duo are in constant demand, recently writing the soundtrack to the Disney sequel for Tron, Tron: Legacy.
The music isn’t really what captivates fans when they think of Daft Punk, however. It seems more and more that their reclusive nature and strict image campaign capture the imagination of their fans. The duo rarely perform live, having not done so since 2007 on the massive Alive tour, and any public performance comes with the obligatory robot attire which the group are known for. In fact, few photos of the duo exist without, at the very least, the masks, making their concept just that little bit more romantic.
The guitars and soulful vocals which we were delivered in snippets ended up forming what will be described as the single of the year, “Get Lucky”. At six minutes in length, it joins a trend in pop music that has been apparent this year across a multitude of releases, from Justin Timberlake’s long awaited return to music, to the newest Kanye West offering, Yeezus. Pop music has finally been given the go-ahead to explore concepts and riffs over an extended period of time.
It wasn’t long after the unveiling of ‘Get Lucky’ that regional Australian town; Wee Waa was revealed to be integral to one of the biggest releases of the year. The 2,000 strong community was to play host to Random Access Memories’ launch party alongside an array of other regular events including dog high jump and crosscut saw competitions.
Just an average day out
The leaking of the album and it’s official release followed. But even before the statistics and accolades came out, it was obvious that Daft Punk were about to explode like never before. It was the most successful marketing campaign for a record seen in many years.
In fact, it was so good that it didn’t matter what the product was, everyone wanted to own the new Daft Punk record and for weeks it was the only record I was asked about. Due to the resounding adoration for “Get Lucky”, it wasn’t going to matter how the rest of the record sounded, hell it didn’t matter what reviewers and music critics thought of the album – it was set to sell millions.
That being said, such hype didn’t come without its own risks. Had “Get Lucky” not been so warmly received, Daft Punk’s guerrilla tactics could have seen disastrous results. When the Big Day Out drip-fed their lineup in 2012 we saw people up in arms after it was rumoured to be the biggest lineup they’d ever had. That year, saw the festival lose significant amounts of money and the removal of the New Zealand show.
“Get Lucky” was enough to get me excited for Random Access Memories, but at the end of the day, I alongside a large number of other music fans, were left bitterly disappointed with the record. As a whole it lacked the cohesive nature of earlier Daft Punk releases with few singles that could live up to the lofty heights of the teaser trailers.
Despite an impressive list of collaborators, the compositions seemed contrived and rarely held me as a listener. Album opener “Give Life Back to Music” feels as though it’s a rejected B-Side to far too many 80’s electronic disco records. The introduction alone speaks volumes about the grandeur they regard themselves with, as stadium rock guitars tarnish what could have been a perfect example of sophisticated pop music. “The Game of Love” dissipates any sense of energy that Daft Punk captured in their introductory track. “Instant Crush” featuring Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, whilst featuring accessible, tangible melodies, feels a little too much like an offcut of The Strokes album Angles for my liking.
In terms of tracks that I love, I hardly need to mention “Get Lucky” – it’s hard not to get your groove on when that beast of a track starts to pump. However its’ stuck right in the middle of the record, meaning on my first few listens there was some time before I was going to get to a track I was really into. Thankfully, “Giorgio by Moroder” appears early on in the record and features what could only be described as a long overdue Kraftwerk influence. The Panda Bear – of Animal Collective fame – collaboration “Doin’ it Right” is sublime in both its syncopation and ability to retain both Panda Bear’s influence, as well as capturing elements of earlier Daft Punk records.
What becomes clear to me when thinking about the record in conjunction with the campaign that surrounded it, is that Daft Punk seem to feel as though they’ve been charged with reinvigorating popular music. The marketing of record alone brought a new sense of energy; few records have been so universally anticipated. I don’t think I’ve ever overheard more discussion about a record that hasn’t even been released yet. I guess I could agree that they gave life back to music in terms of the way it was discussed. I struggle, however, to see whether or not they’ve brought life back to music through Random Access Memories. A lot of tracks on the record just don’t live up to what many fans have come to expect out of the world’s premiere EDM group. Too often the record leaves me wanting something more and feeling as though I’ve listened to a messy assortment of songs as opposed to a unified musical experience. Songs feel recycled and reanimated – particularly the two tracks featuring Pharrell – and others feel as though they’ve been included for the sole purpose of releasing the record.
The two robots have never really stepped outside of their realm of expertise, rather sticking to what they know, a fatal flaw on this record. The last thing I would trust to put life into something, is something that has never lived at all.
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