Nick Reviews Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”

Posted by – March 12, 2014

This album, Random Access Memories, won the Grammy for Album of the Year last month, sold umpteen-bajillion copies/went platinum in an era of “people don’t buy albums,” and hit number one in over 20 countries, and after listening to it I understand why.  It has the mass appeal of Europop/techno-dance, while being way more clever and creative than most any discothèque-type techno that came before it.  You do get the repetitive loops endemic to techno, and that annoyed me sometimes, but often Daft Punk mixes it up so much with a diversity of sounds and actual musical instruments, and modular synthesizers like their obvious forefathers, Kraftwerk, that it works.

Evidently they had all the tracks recorded live with real musicians performing all the instruments, and limited the use of electronic sounds to drum machines, a modular synthesizer, and vintage vocoders. The music is still predominantly electronic, but it’s electronic music with a distinctly “analog” feel, again the Kraftwerk sound, and the album is so creative because it puts the music of the 70s and 80s in a blender, ending up with an interesting gumbo of electric sounds and musical instruments. Track 6 – “Lose Yourself to Dance” reminds me of how “Der Kommissar” (original Falco version) layers electric guitar over synthesizers.

“Get Lucky” (Track 8) became the biggest international hit single in recent memory.  It’s so popular that it has prompted innumerable parodies and tributes, some of the weirdest include Postmodern Jukebox‘s ridiculous (but wonderfully violined) Irish tenor version, and the partially a cappella version performed for the Sochi Olympics opening ceremonies by the MVD Police Choir (video here). This wasn’t just the most surreal moment of the Sochi games, it was quite possibly the most surreal moment of any Olympic opening ceremony ever.  
The American media, typically oblivious, reported this as the “police choir,” but the MVD is the Interior Ministry.  The MVD are bodyguards for the Czar “president,” top ministers and other key officials, alongside their core role of beating protesters with clubs in the streets, silencing the opposition, spying on dissidents, etc.; these aren’t “police” in U.S. or UK terms, and we’ve yet to coin an American neologism for “combining the jobs of the U.S. Secret Service and the East German Stasi,” though “secret police” almost covers it and “Interior Ministry” more than gets the point across in European and Eurasian/Mideast contexts.  

This weird moment exemplifies the growth of a global language & pop culture: note that Random Access Memories is in English, every lyric sung, every word spoken, but is being embraced nonetheless as a European discothèque-type thing from Sochi near the North Caucasus to Reykjavik to Helsinki, and this is super clear watching the diverse hodgepodge of Russian guys in the secret police Glee club belting out perfect imitations of an English language song.  
This surreal performance also epitomizes how many feel about Russia’s Olympics: “oh great, the oppressive regime’s doing a celebratory butt-dance and singing perfect harmonies about getting lucky on every TV screen in the world!”  It isn’t my favorite track.

My favorite track is Track 10 – “Motherboard,” which throws a symphony orchestra into synthesizers, now string section, now woodwinds, live drums, then toward the end throws (what sounds like) ectoplasm or quicksand or viscous Cthulhu dung or something atop that.

There are a lot of oddball collaborations here, with the song done with “Rainbow Connection” songwriter Paul Williams, Track 7 “Touch,” in which Williams (still alive!) sings the lyrics he wrote about…touching… over/between electronic experiments, the weirdest by far. The Daft Punk + Paul Williams collaborations (he also wrote—but doesn’t sing—lyrics for Track 9 “Beyond”) will go down in history as one of the most bizarre musical collaborations ever, right up there with the weird Bing Crosby-David Bowie “Little Drummer Boy” duet.

Paul Williams also gave the acceptance speech for Daft Punk’s Album of the Year Grammy.

I don’t usually like electronic music. But overall, I give this album four out of five rabbits.

Image: Four out of five rabbits

 

 

SCORE: FOUR BUNS

 

—Nick