It’s no easy feat to listen to Daft Punk and set aside the French duo’s genius for marketing. A carefully woven narrative of science fiction combined with a strategically executed, consumer-teasing campaign has propelled the release of “Random Access Memories” into a cultural event.
For Daft Punk’s first proper release since 2005’s “Human After All,” the electronic dance duo that influenced everyone from Skrillex to Kanye West has abandoned sampling for live instrumentation. A bold artistic decision and smart marketing ploy for artists who inspired a generation of one-man, laptop bands.
So, removing the glimmering brand experience of an Apple product, what do we get with the long-anticipated “Random Access Memories?” It’s a funk and disco record paying homage to the genres that Daft Punk once repurposed into dance-pop hits. Rarely deviating from the same tempo or time signature, the album plays out like a robot high school musical.
Ballads like “The Game of Love” and “Within” sturr images of Iron Man singing in some smoky lounge. Instead of smartly looped vocal hooks like “one more time” or “around the world,” these tracks force the listener to actually digest the lyrics. Listen to the lyrics? This is something we’ve never had to do on a Daft Punk record before. Yet an auto-tuned voice sings cliched lines of “walking away” and the game of love. All these screwball moments of overacting and melodrama nearly complement the album’s cartoonish yet beautiful recreation of disco.
Like those famed, obscure Daft Punk samples that became building blocks to previous albums — a guitar lick here, a bass groove there — “RAM” is filled with small gems. On “Giorgio by Moroder” the pause before the beat drops over a click track hits every pleasure center that Daft Punk is known for. The funk riff by Niles Rodgers on “Get Lucky” grooves perfectly with Pharrell Williams’ smartly-phrased vocals. This speaks to the album’s overall strengths, which come thanks to guests like Panda Bear and Julian Casablancas. These cameos show what type of musicians the men of Daft Punk are — they aren’t creators, they’re recreators, making smart collages out of materials long forgotten or unappreciated.
But you have to give Daft Punk credit for trying to stop the droning EDM scene it helped create. Though “Random Access Memories” is far from a perfect album, it’s a bold statement in a shiny, plastic package.