Review Summary: Away from the conversation about the albums promotion, Random Access Memories is loaded with nostalgia and plenty for Daft Punk fans to enjoy.
Like many costumed musical acts, the persona put forward often draws away from the reality; Daft Punk consists of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. The lead up to Random Access Memories has further distanced the conversation away from the men behind the masks, and towards a conversation from which the music stands little chance of being talked about in isolation. As described by Grantland’s Steven Hyden “the strategy for selling Memories has been written about nearly as much as the album at this point.” The argument of whether the album should be rated in the context of the wider marketing and lead up to its release date is somewhat of a moot point, as every man and his dog has already done so. Yet it seems regardless of the music’s failings in this context, Random Access Memories stands as an album with the fingerprints of Thomas and Guy-Manuel all over it.
Album collaborator Thomas Edwards puts forth that “they’re fulfilling their vision on all levels, you know all aesthetics.” In the release of Random Access Memories
a variety of media avenues were utilised, with snippets of Get Lucky
airing during commercial breaks of Saturday Night Live; Pharell and Nile Rodgers appearing in a teaser at Coachella; and the small town of Wee Waa, Australia hosting the world premiere of the album. What many a critic seemed geared up for was Get Lucky
stretched out over 13 tracks. An album packed with potential chart-topping hits that proved as infectious as past singles like One More Time
and Around the World
. Within this context, much of the album does little to justify the momentum and attention created by its marketing. There is nothing outside Get Lucky
that appears ready to storm the charts as Discovery
In its construction there is little that is groundbreaking in Random Access Memories
. Much has been made of Daft Punk’s usage of more traditional instruments. While this may ebb to the flow of electronic artists such as Skrillex and Calvin Harris; there is little to distance Random Access Memories
in style from Daft Punk’s French contemporaries like Sebastien Tellier, Air, Justice, or anything released on labels like Guy-Manuel’s own Crydamoure. The most distinguishing aspect of the album is that it sounds like Daft Punk, songs like Give Life Back to Music
sound as if they are a lost b-side from the days of Discovery
. Elsewhere in the album, familiar trappings of Daft Punk are present, the likes of Within
harking back to past songs such as Emotion
and Make Love
Just like with Radiohead’s In Rainbows
, at some point the enormity of the album’s release will fade from view. In a few years time when talk of the albums lead-up is confined to Wikipedia, the precisely constructed sounds of Random Access Memories
appear set to age favourably. The deft hand of Daft Punk shows up in songs like Beyond
. Vocals drenched in vocoder move over a funky R&B bass-line at a pace which shows no rush to make its point when the ride is what matters. Others such as Motherboard
sound too close to filler ambiance which their TRON: Legacy
soundtrack was loaded up on. Yet criticisms of the albums length are not entirely fair, with song length mattering far more in an age in which albums are only rarely consumed as a whole. In respect to song length, the majority of songs do not outstay their welcome but show patience in building a groove and moving through the motions. It is also a trait which has been an aspect of Thomas and Guy-Manuel’s music throughout their career, past songs like Verdis Quo
and High Fidelity
stretching past five minutes with little to say other than a delicious little hook.
While the album does have much in common with Daft Punk’s first two full length albums, it is easy to see by comparison that Random Access Memories
lacks some of the energy of its predecessors. This is perhaps attributable to the age of Thomas and Guy-Manuel, both coming up on forty years of age. Recorded in California, the song Fragments of Time
seems inclined to soak in the atmosphere of their location, both thematically and sonically treasuring the moment and playing homage to the sounds of the West Coast. In honouring the past, they may strike some as a tad pretentious with the likes of Giorgio by Moroder
. Yet the skill of Thomas, Guy-Manuel, and to a lesser extent their collaborators, is great enough that patient listeners along for the journey will find a wealth of moments worth revisiting.
Putting it all together, Random Access Memories
is nostalgic towards the sounds of the 70s and 80s, and at the same time echoes the approach and learnings of Thomas and Guy-Manuel. The album stumbles in lacking anything truly groundbreaking, and even Get Lucky
stands as somewhat of a pretender when held up to the likes of Around the World
. Yet many of the albums other criticisms miss the point that this is a Daft Punk album, with all the usual trappings that involves. Over time it seems likely that Random Access Memories
will stand as a logical evolvement of Thomas and Guy-Manuel’s sound, and a fairly rewarding listen for those looking for more of what sets Daft Punk apart from the crowd.