hmv's Albums Of The Year...#2 Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memories'
Over the last month, we've asked all our staff members to vote for their favourite albums of 2013 and they've responded in droves. Over 500 albums received votes, but, after every vote has been counted, we have our final tally. Today, it's the #2 album and it's Daft Punk...
In terms of music, if 2013 is going to be remembered for anything, it will be as the year of the unexpected comeback album. David Bowie, Boards of Canada and even Beyonce have all sprung new records onto us from next to nowhere. In all of these cases, the element of surprise has been a key factor of each release. Then there’s Daft Punk.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last twelve months, you will no doubt already be aware of the way the ingenious marketing campaign unfolded: the teaser spots in the ad breaks on Saturday Night Live, the billboard advertisements on Sunset Strip, the Coachella video etc.
But in the case of Daft Punk, the surprise wasn’t just the fact they had re-emerged. It was what they had re-emerged with.
Picture this: you are an artist that has been pivotal in determining the direction of an entire genre. You are responsible for producing not one, but two albums that have been credited for completely changing the game. Your acclaim is so universal, your influence so widespread, that everywhere you look you see your ideas being copied. What do you do next?
Daft Punk’s debut, Homework, is arguably the record that took dance music out of the clubs and onto mainstream radio. Their follow-up, Discovery, was such a leap forward in style and substance it has been described as the genre’s equivalent to Sergeant Pepper’s…, and while their third effort, Human After All, wasn’t exactly lauded as a masterpiece at the time of its release, the accompanying live show for their Alive 2007 tour changed the rules for what a live experience could be for a dance act.
So, after a break of 6 years, they returned….with a disco record. Not only that, but in order to achieve the sound they were looking for, they realised that the way they had been used to working just wasn’t going to cut it. Mastering the use of samplers, drum machines and synthesisers is one thing, but making a live recording from scratch is a another ball game completely. In essence, they went right back to square one.
The first thing that hits you as you listen to Random Access Memories is how expensive everything sounds, and there’s a reason for this: Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo weren’t exactly short of a few quid, but they also didn’t have a record deal. Regardless, they reportedly spent over $1 million of their own cash to make this record. Was it worth it? Yes. Yes it was.
As well as the fact that the sound has been finely crafted in a range of the world’s best recording studios, they have drafted in some heavyweight session musicians like Omar Hakim on drums and Nathan East on bass guitar. But it’s the collaborators they’ve chosen that proves to be the making of this record, particularly Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers.
This record is in part a homage to their heroes, but it’s also an experiment, a gamble even. With a global army of fans expecting another Discovery, making a record like this was always going to risk disappointing some people, but what the French duo have done here is make a Daft Punk record with live instruments instead of samples, and viewed that way, Random Access Memories makes perfect sense.
As well as their ubiquitous über-smash ‘Get Lucky’, the album features some great upbeat disco numbers, especially the 9-minute ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ featuring the disco legend talking about his life over a hypnotic synthesiser riff, but the real surprise here are the slower numbers like the mournful ‘Game of Love’, the swooning piano of ‘Within’ (courtesy of Chilly Gonzales) or the damn-near operatic opus that is ‘Touch’, featuring ‘Rainbow Connection’ writer and sometime Muppets collaborator Paul Williams.
What becomes apparent quite quickly is that this is an intensely personal records from two artists who are not known for giving much away about themselves. The result is an album that sees the robots at their most human yet. It is the midas-fingered influence of the aforementioned Mr. Rodgers, however, that pushes this album into ‘must-have’ territory, and it is well worth its place at No. 2 in our 2013 poll.