The lyrical clichés – one of the first things Daft Punk detractors seize upon – are also out in full force. Talk of life, love, and “moments that shine” are rife, while some phrases even sound like variations on mottos peddled by the duo before. (‘Give Life Back To Music’ is fairly interchangeable with ‘The Prime Time Of Your Life’.)
Much like its title suggests, Random Access Memories’ wordplay deals almost exclusively in longing for something vague, rich and warm in tone, the same way nostalgia is.
Paul Williams’ fragile croon on the musically bonkers centrepiece ‘Touch’, recalls a “half-forgotten song;” “A tourist in a dream” aching for something damaged, lost somewhere in spiralling confusion (“a room within a room/a door behind a door”) but never recounts the actual artefact.
It takes a grandiose chorus of backing vocalists cycling a refrain of “hold on” to name the missing piece of the puzzle: love. In itself, yet another truism, like the cop-out cliché finale where the central protagonist realises “it was all a dream.”
Even the preppy upbeat numbers – generally the ones featuring Pharrell Williams doing his best soul lothario impression – have something of the artifice about them. “Like the legend of the phoenix” is a rather obtuse way to begin a song charged by the thrill of the One Night Stand.
But it’s exactly this kind of broad rhetoric that the album trades in to ensure its widest mode of accessibility; we are of course dealing with a French band that deals exclusively in English.
But even the simplest peppy slogans are less significant for not what is being said, but how. ‘Lose Yourself Dance’ threads layers of robotic voices chanting “c’mon, c’mon” into an ever-dizzying ascent, while ‘Doin’ It Right’s titular refrain achieves a similarly looping rush against Panda Bear’s cheerleader singing. …Living musicians not machines; the real smudge of human fingerprints despite the robot façade, fulfilling the prophetic title of 2005’s Human After All
It’s a clichéd defense in and of itself, but this is not an album about lyrics – or at least not the poetry or subtlety of them – but about their effect. The real focus is on the dramatic shift of the music that pillows those placeholder lines has undergone.
To call Random Access Memories ‘dance’ music needs a lot of external quantifiers. It’s lashings of jazz, funk, and disco is dance music of another era – not in any way related to the modern, electronic meaning of the genre Daft Punk helped usher in. The instrumental focus of the album delivers intimacy and intricate sonic details that a subwoofer-centric club’s speaker system cannot provide.
A record better appreciated in one (sometimes gruellingly) long, late-night sitting with the attention span of a true audiophile (probably with some wine and cheese for full effect).
Best absorbed by those that aren’t shocked by the dance pioneers employing live instrumentation, but instead appreciative of the warmth and directness of living musicians not machines; the real smudge of human fingerprints despite the robot façade, fulfilling the prophetic title of 2005’s Human After All. Random Access Memories is not an album friendly to the dance music and dubstep offshoots that pepper the charts and have subsequently stretched their oily tendrils into the wider cultural landscape.
As if in apology to the EDM progeny that they inadvertently helped spawn, Daft Punk’s love letter to the past doubles as an enormous middle finger to the Skrillexes and Justices of the world.
While any old asshole and his dog can whip up a dubstep remix in their bedroom on a Mac Air in five minutes flat, Random Access Memories is precisely the kind of ambitious, grandiose statement that only someone with the skill and matching ambition of Daft Punk could make.
As if to arrogantly say to their EDM peers “here’s an album you could only dream of creating,” because only Daft Punk have access to the best studios and musicians that money can buy and are themselves famous enough to call upon musical elite to ‘pop in’, only to turn to a sonic architecture that denounces the very electronic constitution they helped draft. As if in apology to the EDM progeny that they inadvertently helped spawn, Daft Punk’s love letter to the past doubles as an enormous middle finger to the Skrillexes and Justices of the world.
But that’s entirely the point: channelling a history of music’s most excessive, decadent genres and eras and magnifying them into an indulgent concept LP.
The cohesion that glues Random Access Memories – yet hidden in clear view in its title – is of something contemporary made to sound retro, only to be discovered in the future. A chicken-egg notion given visual display in the ‘unboxing’ promo teaser that was all but forgotten in the news of the album appearing on torrent websites (and was most likely, conspiracy theorists take note, a precursor secretly telegraphing the leak).
In the trailer, a copy of Random Access Memories is discovered on vinyl – that most hip but nonetheless vintage of formats – deep within a nervous system of blinking panels in the sci-fi shaped heart of what looks to be a futuristic spaceship. One that just so happens to have a turntable – the juxtaposition of the out-dated with the cutting edge.
This future nostalgia is the same idea that Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) struggled to articulate in his episode of The Collaborators: “Instead of sampling an old piece of music it was like recording things in an old way to make something that sounds like it was sampling, something old. But which, in turn, makes it sound new, if you know what I mean…”
In essence, the whole point and concept of Random Access Memories is a bizarre kind of echo chamber; a feedback loop which evokes something from the past but presents it in a contemporary way – a past that’s yet to be discovered by future generations.
In that opening technical definition of computer RAM, there’s a key part of the description that’s missing. RAM not only stores information so that it can be accessed quickly and efficiently – the reading of data, but also the writing of data.
Daft Punk may be accessing and organising their own kinds of musical ‘data’ from the past, but in working in such a contemporary field, they’re writing a new kind of musical history in the process.