Will Daft Punk be playing at your house, your house this summer? After hearing their fourth studio album, RTÉ Ten's Alan Corr finally falls out of love with the French duo
In their eight-year absence, Daft Punk's reputation has grown as much as their well-cultivated mystique. But the dance floor they did so much to subvert has become Guetta-ised and loaded down with the shrill zombie production of Johnny come latelys. America came late to the EDM party and arrived with some handy corporate style initials for the genre in case anyone was in any doubt that having fun was now big business. Gee, thanks guys.
Merry pranksters, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have made their feelings clear about this corporate-style colonisation (OK, they’ve shrugged their shoulders with sangfroid and murmured their discontent) but expectations for Daft Punk's first studio album in eight years are great - the elegant but mischievous French duo who've influenced everybody from Deadmau5, to Jay-Z to Phoenix to, most importantly, Disco Stu, have a lot to answer back for, and to.
So here is their meandering and unfocused retort - an album that doesn’t really engage with EDM’s drift into joyless conformity but merely wrinkles an elegant nose and buries its head and its ass in the seventies and eighties. At well over an hour long, RAM is over-cooked and overly lavish and has precious few sparks of former glory despite a stellar cast including disco godfather Nile Rodgers, surly proto new waver Julian Casablancas, some seventies soft rockers, and at least one member of the new indie elite.
Heavy on the theatrical in places, mournful in others, and slick with seventies disco, it is an album of many moods. It’s just that it’s hard to believe Daft Punk are actually feeling any of them for real.
There is no such problem with the triumphant single Get Lucky, a song that brims with sleek and crisp melodies and a vocal from Pharrell Williams that captures the feel of both sun up and sun down. It's an instant classic. However, it is the likes of Giorgio by Moroder where Daft Punk’s careful modulation between acknowledging the past and hinting at the future begins to become undone. On the track, the German electronic music pioneer recounts his voyage through music, from schoolboy guitar player to disco overlord.
Daft Punk recorded Mr Moroder’s monologue into three seperate microphones from three different decades. It’s a conceit that ardent audiophiles will love but when he stops talking, the song slips into a slick dance procedural complete with the kind of ironic jazz breakdown that will have modern-day hipsters smirking their approval.
After nine minutes of this dance noodling, the elegiac piano-lead (courtesy of Chilly Gonzales) Within is sweet relief and Julian Casablancas blank auto-tuned vocals on Instant Crush are similarly great. The celestial Lose Yourself to Dance, a loose, loping disco funk song that will truly transport you into the past, is superb and along with Get Lucky, these are the best tracks on RAM.
A lot of the rest seems to vanish in a haze of over-reaching cleverness and maybe there is something too arch and too knowing about the immaculate production. On The Game of Love, the sophisto rhythm guitar, twinkling keyboards, and burbling bass lines sound delightful under the mournful auto-tuned crooning but too much of this languid regret really does begin to wear.
True, sounding too perfect is not much of a criticism in a world of identikit production values and Daft Punk are still worth loving for managing to meld guilty pleasure naffness and high cool with a sly wink. However, Touch may be an in-joke too far. It starts with seventies soft rock kingpin Paul Williams sounding like that very bad robot in Logan’s Run, segues into a Charles Aznavour-like ballad, and switches back and forth between the two and what sounds like a pisstake of Tina Charles' I Love to Love.
It’s hard not to think of Touch and the jittery Motherboard as, well, the emperor’s new space helmets – pretty and shiny but not much else. Fragments of Time nicely mixes the world weariness of Steely Dan with the dopiness of The Doobies on an extended tract of cheesy soft rock. Doin’ it Right reverts to robot pop with unremarkable vocals from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, and the wildly silly finale Control is six and half minutes of astronaut radio chatter and a rapidly accelerating build-up of snyths, perhaps, mimicking a space craft re-entering orbit.
Jean Michel Jarre would dig it but unlike some rare thing of wonder spinning high in space above us, RAM may be the sound of Daft Punk finally coming crashing back down to earth.