Five years ago this week (17 May to be exact), Daft Punk unveiled their fourth studio album (or fifth if you include 2010’s Tron Legacy soundtrack), Random Access Memories.
Following a series of teasers, the ridiculously catchy Get Lucky stormed the charts in April of that year, leading Messrs Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter to pick up a myriad of industry awards, including Grammys for both Best Dance/Electronica Album and Album of the Year.
Reviews were also gushing – the NME gave it 10 out of 10, while Resident Advisor praised the LP’s rooting in a “now-ancient aesthetic: ’70s staples, like crisply recorded California studio music, or the kind of deceptively sophisticated New York disco that Nile Rodgers, one of the album’s key guest artists, popularised with Chic.”
Five years on, however, I would argue that Random Access Memories has aged far quicker than any of the robot duo’s previous work, and a return to the drawing board in urgently in order.
While the album has some undoubted high points – Giorgio By Moroder is an electronic symphony, while closing track Contact is one of the group’s best – tracks like The Game of Love, Instant Crush and (especially) Fragments Of Time are, in a word, forgettable.
Even Get Lucky, which was perhaps the biggest track of 2013, has been overplayed to saturation point.
This month, May 2018, also marks a quarter century since the band was first christened, when Dave Jennings of Melody Maker described the group’s early work, under the band name Darlin’, as ‘daft punky thrash’, in a review of May 1993.
Within a year, Bangalter and de Homem-Christo had crafted tracks such as The New Wave (later rechristened Alive) and Drive, and a new, edgy era in electronic music had begun. Homework, which followed in January 1997, remains essential listening more than 21 years later.
As Random Access Memories turns five, attention will undoubtedly turn to ‘what Daft Punk do next’, and I would argue that in order to truly look forward, the duo should seek to reignite that excitement that accompanied their early years.
It’s there on raw-as-nails tracks like Rollin and Scratchin, in live album Alive 97, and in the filtered disco masterpiece One More Time, on Discovery. More recently, I really enjoyed the duo’s intro theme from Tron Legacy; a building, brooding synth track with ne’er a vocoder in sight.
Yes, you will argue, all bands need to evolve, and Daft Punk cannot simply rewind the clock and ditch the high-end production values for a Roland TB 303 and a couple of pre-programmed drum machine patterns.
But close to two decades on from when the duo first adopted their robot alter egos, I think it’s time we saw another side to Daft Punk. And I don’t mean another tie up with The Weekend.
Even polished chrome gets a bit rusty after a few years…
[PS: I am aware that somebody calling themselves User19972001200420132019 on Soundcloud (dates that happen to coincide with the release of Daft Punk albums) released a track snippet earlier this year which may or may not be from an an-yet untitled new Daft Punk album. Given its vague authenticity, I have chosen not to comment on it, however there’s plenty of discussion on the topic on the official Daft Punk Reddit.]