Review Summary: 'I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed in you.'
It’s difficult to review such a maligned piece of work without acknowledging that a large chunk of the disappointment is comparative.
Daft Punk’s first two albums are classic electronic records in their own right, and totally unique from each other – so to expect a repeat performance of either would have been unfair.
And really, would Homework II – Extra Assignments
really have been that fulfilling?
That said, from the minute the single cycle began with the catchy-as-hell but ultimately unfulfilling ‘Robot Rock’ just over 10 years ago, there was something off about Daft Punk, an idea that maybe they were resting on their laurels.
This reviewer, dear readers, was filled with dread.
And so it turns out, Human After All
is a joyless, grey trudge through 10 motifs – no more, no less.
There are no moments of glorious pop euphoria, there are no skillful sample-based hooks, there is no charming narrative with twists and turns.
Take ‘Nightvision’ off the Discovery
album as an example – the track was short, subdued and didn’t warrant attention, and at face value it was disappointing in its repetition. But then taken in the context of the album, and in particular the brilliant video cycle, it made perfect sense where it was.
The obvious comparison on this album is ‘Emotion’ – another slightly muddy synth following a minor chord progression. But here, there is no context in which this idea fits.
That an act as revered and talented as Daft Punk could turn this 3-second motif into a 7-minute drone to close out an album is baffling, and bordering on the offensive.
Another example of this ‘philosophy’ is on the track ‘Make Love’. Undeniably, this is a smooth hook, with honey-sweet guitar delicately riding over a fuzzy piano loop. But is 5 minutes of this idea with ZERO
variation worthy of status as an album track?
You wrote 'Digital Love', for crying out loud, and made it shorter than this!
What hurts is that the Daft Punk of old would take these ideas, morph and manipulate them, and use them as foundations for tracks that would swell and drop, ride dizzying waves and satisfy from beginning to end.
The 2005 version is happy to copy, paste, and make do. How very human, after all…
While these tracks serve to highlight the downfall of this record, they aren’t ‘worst offenders’ or anything like that – I can’t pinpoint specific disappointments because the same lazy prolonging exercises plague every single track here.
The songs on offer are, at best, B-side material, maybe a collection of unexplored ideas that never made it to a full release that could get revisited in later years.
But that this will sit alongside ‘Homework
’ and ‘Discovery
’ (and now, ‘Random Access Memories
’) in the full catalogue of studio albums feels like an affront to the Daft Punk legacy.
As much as the bulk of this review would suggest otherwise, the record is not wholly without promise.
‘The Brainwasher’, for example, sounds like the pair had been listening to Aphex Twin’s ‘Come To Daddy’ and decided between themselves (in French, of course) that they want to make a version that would work on the radio – and it’s fun, in a pseudo-threatening kind of way.
‘Technologic’ is probably the closest this record comes to a full song, and it’s a real earworm. It feels somewhat telling that it’s welcome extends far further than that of the album as a whole – although it could still use a little bit more layering and space-filling.
And the aforementioned lead single displays so much swagger, it at the very least demands an acknowledging head-bob.
With this being a Daft Punk record, also the production is top-notch. The synths are crisp and meticulously crafted, complete with every static hiss or studio imperfection. The basslines, too, are warm and clean, and work seamlessly against the percussion to fill out the sound to perfection.
It’s just a shame they didn’t get round to writing any songs.