“We’re up all night to get lucky,” Pharrell Williams sings as the now famous Daft Punk single “Get Lucky” comes to an end, but chances are you will be up all night to listen to this record. The thing about Random Access Memories is, it’s such a seductive and enchanting album that once you start listening to the opening track, “Give Life Back to Music,” you won’t be able to stop listening to it until it’s over 70+ minutes later. It’s a journey *and* a destination.
While they do occasionally peer into the future, Daft Punk didn’t set out to make a futuristic record this time. In fact, they didn’t even want to make a record that sounded current. They might have helped create today’s EDM scene, but they’ve more or less lost interest in it. Instead, they decided to look to the past when making this album. And, thankfully, they didn’t look to the ’90’s for inspiration, because heaven knows far too many artists are doing that right now. No, fear not, there’s no ’90’s here. Daft Punk delved deep into ’70’s and ’80’s music when crafting this odyssey. If they had a goal, it was to create a new Daft Punk record that paid tribute to the disco and prog rock scenes they grew up with using live instruments wherever possible in lieu of samples and computers. And they’ve achieved that goal. Random Access Memories sounds like a Daft Punk record from start to finish, yet the way it was made was essentially the antithesis of how they made their previous albums. And the ’70’s and ’80’s influences are audible everywhere.
The album begins with “Give Life Back to Music,” a title that makes is quite obvious that Daft Punk, otherwise known as Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, are paying homage to decades past. The amazing thing is that “Give Life Back to Music” sounds just like anything you might have heard on late ’70’s A.M. radio. It could be Steely Dan. Or The Eagles. Or The Doobie Brothers. To that end, one might argue that it’s somewhat generic, but it’s the fact that it could be any of these acts that makes it such a crowning achievement, clearly accomplishing exactly what the duo set out to do. The fact that it also sounds like Daft Punk is just the cherry on top of the sundae. Besides, it has Nile fucking Rodgers on guitar, so how’s that for making it authentic?
While taking a voyage through the sounds that shaped them might have been enough of a concept for the album, there are other concepts here as well. One could look at the album as a robot’s desire to become human, a lone artificial intelligence that knows it’s not quite human after all and longs to change that and find love. An impossible quest, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it can’t grow a heart, or that it doesn’t have a soul. And it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t lose itself to dance. But, hey, if that’s too sci-fi for you then you could regard the album as one person’s quest to find a soulmate, the tale of a lonely heart playing “The Game of Love,” as the song goes. “There is a game of love, this is a game of love, and it was you, the one that could be breaking my heart,” someone sings through a vocoder. Whether the voice is human or android, the loneliness in the voice is heart-breaking.
While most of the tracks on the album are fascinating, one of most intriguing is “Giorgio by Moroder,” which finds Giorgio Moroder talking about his musical journey, how he left school and pursued music, singing at discotheques and sleeping in his car. Most of his story is told during the first couple of minutes of the nine minute track — he briefly returns later — but as the song continues it’s as though it’s fleshing out his story, accomplishing what he set out to do. And it’s a compelling listen, easily one of the best tracks Daft Punk have ever made. It builds and builds and builds, gradually adding more instruments and more layers of sound, transforming into something epic if not entirely mind-blowing. Sometimes when I listen to it my mind fixates on the superb drumming. Other times it focuses on the astounding bass guitar wizardry. But I never tire of this track. On the contrary, it excites me more and more each time I listen to the album.
“There are so many things I don’t understand, there’s a world within me that I cannot explain,” the robotic voice sings at the beginning of the touching ballad “Within.” Well, OK, so it’s a human voice singing through a vocoder but the song is just as touching whether you regard the voice as that of a robot or a human. I happen to think that it’s more melancholic if you consider the voice to be that lonely robot in search of a mate, but that’s just me.
The album’s most affecting track is “Instant Crush” featuring vocals by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. His voice is processed through a vocoder, but it still sounds like him and it’s actually more emotive than anything he’s ever done with The Strokes. Seriously. “And we will never be alone again, cause it doesn’t happen every day, kinda counted on you being a friend, kinda given up on giving away,” he sings with the sadness of a teenage girl who’s just been dumped by her first boyfriend. It reminds me of Air’s haunting “Playground Love.”
It’s only about halfway through the closing track, “Contact,” that the album takes on the sound of previous Daft Punk records, at which point it turns into a dirty, mind-frying banger. It’s interesting how that happens — it’s as though the album starts off showing where they came from, harkening to their influences, and as they go through the ’70’s and ’80’s they eventually reach the ’90’s and beyond, the second half of “Contact” starting off like classic Daft Punk then taking off and showing us what Daft Punk might sound like in the future. I suppose that will leave some wishing they’d made that record instead of this one, but I suspect most listeners will be more than satisfied with this voyage. Some might even say this is the best Daft Punk record yet. I would.