'The most-awaited album of the year'? For once the cliché may be true. Everyone from hyper-trendy fad-followers in East London to the pilled-up ravers in your local club has been waiting for Daft Punk's 'Discovery'. It even cropped up on the controversial Napster service weeks before release, where demand was so high that fake versions of the album's tracks were posted by mischievous music lovers.
The enigmatic Parisian duo's 1996 debut, 'Homework' was an unexpected sensation, knitting together a patchwork of fuzzed-up analogue disco and electro-tinged hip-hop, resulting in an occasionally brilliant – and sometimes awful – mish-mash. Three titanic showpiece tracks dominated 'Homework': the scratchy downtempo groove of breakthrough hit, Da Funk; the crystalline body-pop of Around the World; and the incendiary acid house of Revolution 909, which came complete with the soundtrack of a confrontation between riot police, and ecstatic ravers. Hey, les flics, leave them kids alone!
It was the record of the year, burning itself into the consciousness of open-minded clubbers and gig-goers alike, aided by a string of unforgettable videos. Rising star Spike Jonze thought a man walking the streets wearing a dog mask was the perfect accompaniment to Da Funk, while Around The World looked like Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, as choreographed by Henry Ford. Daft Punk were unstoppable. Guy-Manuel De Homem Christo and Thomas Banglater rocketed from the obscurity of their bedrooms to global stardom, and then reacted by hiding behind face-masks during public appearances.
The furore finally died down, but only after the album's sales climbed above two million. Daft Punk were hailed as the most exciting band of their era by a worshipping style press. Soon dance music was flooding out of France in their wake. The French hip-hop scene had been strong for many years, as acts like I-Am, NTM and Doc Gyneco received radio play after the passing of legislation that demanded a minimum of 30% French language music on the playlists of French radio but Daft Punk brought the sound of French house music to the world. Later releases by Dimitri from Paris, Cassius, Rhinoceros and St Germain all took dancefloors by storm; and 'Moon Safari', the debut album from another unconventional French duo, Air, was one of the most successful and influential albums of the nineties.
For Daft Punk, a lengthy hiatus followed 'Homework'. Rather than resting on his laurels, Thomas Banglater joined forces with fellow Parisian producer Alan Braxe to form Stardust. The duo's first production began with a looped sample of Fate by disco diva Chaka Khan. Braxe then drafted in school-mate Benjamin 'Diamond' Cohen to add a weepy, lovelorn vocal. The resulting track was named Music Sounds Better With You. Banglater arranged a test pressing and distributed the records to fellow DJs at the Winter Dance Conference in Miami. The song was a massive crossover hit, sounding as good in a Berlin basement as a dodgy Blackpool discotheque. Music Sounds Better With You went on to become one of the best-selling house records of all time, and despite massive over-exposure and sundry inferior rip-offs, still sounds beautiful today.
So, following a huge album, and an even bigger single, there is massive pressure on Daft Punk to do the business on 'Discovery' (or 'Disco-Very', as rumour has it the album was originally titled). One More Time, the album's opener, was released last year as a single, and was a victim of excessive imitation. Everything from Madonna's album to garage white labels was awash with vocoders, and sadly, One More Time was only slightly superior. Strangely enough, the start of Aerodynamic sounds just like the Angelus! The wah-wah-driven house is classic Daft Punk, until a hilarious Van Halen-esque guitar break breaks up the party. It's laugh-out-loud silly, but when the beats kick in, it suddenly makes sense. This one will be huge. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger revisits Around The World, as 80s electro sounds collide in a hypnotic groove. It is one of the album's markedly stronger cuts. There's a bewildering variation of genres on 'Discovery', the vocal-led house epic is gets a brilliant treatment on Too Long; Veridis Quo is Hooked On Classics for the 21st Century; and the 80s electro of Short Circuit recalls the retro-style of Les Rhythmes Digitales. Daft Punk even take a stab at an electronic ballad on Digital Love and Something About Us, the latter looking down on Air with an "anything you can do" attitude. These are the cuts the dance fascists will hate.
The critical sharks are already circling around 'Discovery', crying "Cheesy", "Unoriginal" and "You only like it because it's Daft Punk". But Daft Punk are not about breaking new ground. Everything on 'Homework' was familiar, as they added their light Gallic touch to a recipe comprising of DJ Sneak, Kraftwerk and Hardfloor. 'Discovery' is no different, except they have added Air, Jeff Wayne, Eddie Van Halen and Cameo to the mix. Even the masked public persona can be traced back to Brit-ravers Altern 8 (or Kiss, if you really want to go back in time).
So, innovation-seekers, go running back to your Autechre albums, you deserve each other. But if you want a glorious and unashamedly indulgent compendium of supreme funk, that'll make you giggle, 'Discovery' is "formidable".
'Discovery' is out now on Virgin.