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18th May 2018

REWIND: Five years ago, Daft Punk released the worst album of their career

Dave Hanratty

Rewind Daft Punk Random Access Memories

Yes, the one with ‘Get Lucky’ on it. No, that’s not a great song.

A reckoning was always going to arrive for Daft Punk. Frankly, it had to.

The super-stylish French robots have been accused of plagiarism, failing to properly credit sources, and outright blatant theft over the years, despite hiding in plain, neon-drenched sight.

How you feel about Daft Punk’s alleged crimes and misdemeanours will depend largely on where you stand on the nature of sampling in music.

The below video offers a concise enough illustration of previous pieces of work that have ‘inspired’ Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter in the past…

Clip via Tom Whitwell

…but does it matter all that much? Sampling is arguably as much a legitimate part of music construction as crafting a guitar line, vocal or drum beat from scratch.

Granted, it’s potentially considerably murkier ground than creating something original, but there’s an art to it, too, one almost always derived from an intense passion for music.

Love him or hate him, Daft Punk collaborator Kanye West and the exhaustive, inventive use of samples in his music speaks to a seriously enviable record collection and the dedication and discipline to learn from and refresh a diverse range of artists and genres.

One of the biggest criticisms faced down by Daft Punk relates to 2001’s superb Discovery, and the contention that it’s something of a deceptive Frankenstein’s monster of an album, lined with work poached from elsewhere without the proper credit attached.

For many, it really doesn’t matter if it’s a case of poor etiquette or remorseless looting; a banger is a banger is a banger, and Discovery houses many, many bangers.

Still, hardly the most spotless legacy to leave behind.

So, about that reckoning, then. The pair haven’t been marched into a courtroom in full disco-cyborg regalia – though what a sight that would be, eh? – and have largely gone from strength to strength, at least commercially speaking.

In the end, we’re the ones who suffered for their art. 17 May 2013 and the unveiling of Random Access Memories rather spelled the end for Daft Punk as a creative, dynamic, intriguing force.

Yes, it has sold millions of copies to date – largely thanks to the sun-soaked, vividly depressing ‘Get Lucky’ which dropped a month before the album’s release – and, for some reason, many people still seem to be under the impression that it’s not a dreadful trash fire of a record.

But it is, and it represents the bottom of a barrel being scraped in the most cynical fashion.

Clip via Daft Punk

You may not have ever looked to Daft Punk for intelligent and thoughtful science fiction, but there’s always been a heightened sense of sophistication in play, even when liberally cribbing from others.

The gimmick; sleek futuristic machine figures in sky-scraping search of awe and love, lent itself to the music, presenting laser-focused adventures with a heart proudly beating on a mechanical sleeve and the right amount of charm required to pull it off.

Random Access Memories put all that aside in favour of avoiding samples almost entirely – how novel! – and utilising in-studio sounds to conjure up a hazy prog-funk fantasy epic in loving thrall to the 1970s, hurling the likes of Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers, Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas and old-school icons Giorgio Moroder and Paul Williams against the wall to see what might stick.

The result was a cold mess of a clumsy betrayal, a garish parade of indulgence and a weirdly honest admittance that this particular space race is long run.

So let’s really commit to all 74 minutes of this thing, and go track-by-track.

1. ‘Give Life Back To Music’

Alarm bells cry out as the soundtrack to a rejected level from Super Mario Galaxy crashes in, immediately presenting the album’s apparent theme of ‘budget holiday cruise ship nightclub’ with a painted-on smile and oh christ they’re really going to double down on that guitar riff aren’t they.

2. ‘The Game of Love’

Kind of almost sort-of works in an ‘interlude between missions in Hotline Miami’ way but where that was tied to a knowing aesthetic, ‘The Game of Love’ feels deathly serious and at least two-and-a-half minutes too long.

3. ‘Giorgio by Moroder’

We’ve had two songs, so it’s time for some JOURNALISM. Nine minutes of it, too. But hey, you really cant blame the boys for wanting to pay proper tribute to the legitimately legendary Giorgio Moroder.

Admittedly, there is something approaching genius in choosing to sit down with the Father of Disco to capture a hugely condensed version of his life story as the basis for a piece of music, and it makes sense that the result be wildly over-the-top, but the execution is patchy and cheap.

Credit, however, must be doled out for just avoiding becoming a full Saturday Night Live sketch. Don’t worry, that comes later.

Clip via Daft Punk

4. ‘Within’

Album not slow and ponderous enough? ‘Within’ is here to save the day.

5. ‘Instant Crush’ (feat Julian Casablancas)

A tough one, this.

If you’ve suffered through last year’s Meet Me In The Bathroom tell-all of New York City’s fiery music scene between 2001 and 2011, you’ll know that Julian Casablancas emerges as one of the more oddly sympathetic figures, even in the wake of some highly objectionable behaviour.

The leader of The Strokes is a consummate rock star, a fierce perfectionist, and, if this recent Vulture interview is anything to by, the kind of dude you never want to hand the aux lead over to at a party.

All that said, Casablancas has a unique signature charisma, and though ‘Instant Crush’ is enjoyable in a lazy, breezy, Euro-pop sort of way, you can’t escape the feeling that the guy is slumming it here.

Clip via Daft Punk

6. ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ (feat Pharrell Williams)

An overlong loop, and a poor relation of the most popular cut on the album.

7, ‘Touch’ (feat Paul Williams)

Paul Williams – not to be confused with the intrepid Irish crime journalist of the same name – has carved out a storied career in both music and film, and is thus another cultural touchstone that Daft Punk felt the need to honour.

A shame, then, that ‘Touch’ gets instantly tangled up in its own unashamed oddity and never comes close to recovering. The kind of misfire you only ever need to hear once, if at all.

8. ‘Get Lucky’ (feat Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers)


And never really all that great to begin with.

‘Get Lucky’ deserves its legacy as one of Limmy’s most dedicated jokes, because it’s so violently naff and uncool that its rise to unavoidable ubiquity remains honestly quite bizarre.

We’re not in the business of shaming here at JOE, you’re free to like what you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, but seriously guys, what the hell? Songs don’t get much cheesier.

Also, six minutes!

Also-also, it gave us this…

Clip via RTÉ

A devastating stomp of approval the likes of which we’ll not soon forget.

You can thank the shamelessly era-thieving ‘Get Lucky’ for ‘Happy’ and ‘Blurred Lines’, too, but that’s probably enough charges for the rap sheet for one day.

9. ‘Beyond’

Even hardcore fans of Random Access Memories* will struggle to tell you anything about this snoozer.

*These people may not actually exist.

10. ‘Motherboard’

Honestly sounds like demo ideas from the TRON: Legacy soundtrack.

Not a bad soundtrack, by the way!

Clip via DisneyMusicVEVO

11. ‘Fragments of Time’ (feat Todd Edwards)

This writer has run out of steam, and so has this album.

12. ‘Doin’ It Right’ (feat Panda Bear)

Panda Bear from Animal Collective on a Daft Punk record? That’s so mad that it just might work… and it does.

‘Doin’ It Right’ is a fun lo-fi belter, and a rare occasion on RAM that successfully mines from the past while splicing with pop trends both modern and beyond.

As befitting a hidden gem, it’s pretty much buried well over an hour in, but it’s the thought that counts.

13. ‘Contact’

If you think ‘Contact’ is a blast and have never explored the catalogue of M83, we encourage you to go and take a deep dive into all things M83 (apart from Junk) because that’s how this is properly, gloriously done.

‘Contact’ is fine – and hey, is that a sample? – and does a good job of building to a thrilling, drum-heavy crescendo. But again, if you know M83, then you’ve heard it before and a great deal better.

As a total standalone, RAM’s final effort simply doesn’t make any sense in closing out this run of songs. It feels like a bonus track, and when a full-blooded journey into the stars feels like the odd one out, that’s a strange, hollow place to be.

But hey, that’s Random Access Memories for you.

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