Considering the hype bestowed upon Random Access Memories, it’s easy to forget that Daft Punk’s last album, 2005’s rushed Human After All, only just scraped into the Billboard Top 100, while you have to go as far back as 2000’s “One More Time” for the last time they reached the Top 10 in their own French homeland.
So although they have been greeted as the second coming ever since a one-minute preview of comeback single “Get Lucky” premiered at Coachella in April, the enigmatic duo still have something to prove on their fourth studio album, even more so following their continuous slating of the EDM scene that many feel they are partially responsible for.
The good news is that Random Access Memories proves their recent talk wasn’t hollow. There’s not a dubstep wobble, lazy sample (a quick burst of The Sherbs’ “We Ride Tonight” on the sci-fi closer “Contact” is the only part of the record lifted from another) or rent-a-rapper to be found amongst its thirteen distinctly Daft Punk tracks.
That said, it’s also a dance music album without much in the way of music you can dance to. Fronted by the falsetto tones of Pharrell Williams, the exquisite funk of “Lose Yourself To Dance” and current hit “Get Lucky,” the latter of which contains a disco riff as glorious as anything Nile Rodgers recorded with Chic, both could have escaped from Studio 54 at its 70s prime.
But other than the disappointingly flat nu-disco of opener “Give Life Back To Music” and the thrilling techno finale of “Giorgio By Moroder,” in which the godfather of electro discusses his career on a part spoken-word affair/part meandering proggy instrumental, Daft Punk focus on the kind of sound more suited to the deck of a yacht than the decks of a dancefloor.
None more so than on “Touch,” a potential alternative theme tune to The Love Boat that’s given even more of an unashamedly corny edge thanks to the theatrical vocals of Oscar-winning composer Paul Williams. Elsewhere, US house producer Todd Edwards also abandons his day-job for the feel-good country-tinged soft-rock of “Fragments Of Time,” The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas continues the AOR vibes on the slick synth-rock of “Instant Crush” and Canadian singer/rapper Gonzales brings down the atmosphere with the melancholic robotic balladry of “Within.”
Often self-indulgent, occasionally downright ludicrous, Random Access Memories might not be the record some might have expected from the initial retro-chic promo. But despite sticking both feet into the era in which both Daft Punk decade members were born, it still somehow manages to sound fresher than anything to have emerged from other superstar DJs who have blown up in their absence.