Published in Exeposé Music issue 610, Week 29.
Read the unedited copy here:
For those who somehow have yet to get their (cybernetic) mitts on the most highly anticipated record in living memory – so for the Tumblr generation, like, a month – it’s best to not approach it with expectations of good or bad, vibrant or flat. Random Access Memories isn’t a case of “Oui, affirmative” or “Ça ne compute pas”; Daft Punk speak in binaries in order to dissolve them, in this case all into a luscious, lengthy prog-disco-soft-rock mush.
The first hurdle for expecting ears is the bare presence of EDM proper – that oh-so-American acronym that took the US by storm via Discovery and a series of pyramid spectacular live shows. Numerous orchestral flourishes introduce with pomp not blistering post-Skrillex boshers but swathes of clean-cut pop, all riding the most tightly engineered disco grooves this side of the galaxy. At times this leads to moments of limp sterility; there are perhaps one too many duff instrumentals and sad robot ballads. But these moments, on ‘The Game Of Love’ and ‘Within’, serve, at the very least, a dynamic purpose: framing the most flamboyant tracks of the record.
For example, far superior to the opener’s sonically flaccid claim to ‘Give Life Back To Music’, the grandiloquent ambition of ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ represents the album’s greatest successes. There, clips of that eponymous pioneer of electronic disco narrate his autobiography in terms of EDM history, by churning out a progressive monster. Starting with the bare bones of a click track (“so I put a click on the 24-track”, relays Giorgio in awesome synchronicity), it gives way to a Moog progression that, though initially underwhelming, launches into OTT-crescendo on dense arrangements of strings, vinyl scratches and a wacky guitar solo.
So too does the slow-burning album itself toy with low-key moods and grooves before playfully dishing out the gold – in Daft Punk’s case, the best vocoder robo-harmonies in existence: see the mid-section of ‘Touch’, where the album’s supreme melodic phrase is joined by a full choir and horror film strings. As that song proves, the dynamic shift between opposites is Daft Punk’s plaything. Guest vocalist Paul Williams’ cracked vocal emerges and re-emerges out of robotic distortion and hyper-produced musical mechanism – it’s a love song, fundamentally.
Like ‘loud’ and ‘soft’, ‘Analogue’ and ‘digital’ coalesce and juxtapose across RAM in weird and wonderful ways. Perhaps best put by Pharrell himself (hoisting up the album’s mid-section like a funky tent pole with deserved hit ‘Get Lucky’), it “feels like the only click track they had was the human heart beat, and that’s what makes it really interesting because these are robots”. There could be more tunes, and you do have to wonder at the biggest musical event for some time being explicitly nostalgic fare, but in most parts RAM lives up to the stupendous hype – marrying the ‘good’ with ‘bad’ is up to the listener.