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Nick Decosemo (Editor) on Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memories'
Give Life Back To Music feat Nile Rodgers
An epic, synthy, almost prog rock intro heralds the news that: Something. Really. Important. Is. Going. To. Happen. What’s delivered is not the apocalypse but a breezy Nile’s Rogers guitar riff – and we are off. There’s 70s jazz funk, sunshine California feel to this opener, featuring – of course – a chirpy, life-affirming vocoded vocal refrain of “If the music gives you life, give life back to music” (or something similar, it’s hard to ascertain for certain with just one listen). Much funkiness ensues and the track has great dynamics, going from smooth guitar and bass licks to big synth breakdowns and builds. But not breakdowns and builds in the traditional dance music sense – it’s made pretty much entirely from “real” instruments from what I could tell (live drums, guitar, keys, synths etc) and solar system away from EDM. The track finishes with a mellow outro and and background crowd / party noises ala Marvin’s Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and the slow fade let’s us know that Discovery Part Deux this ain’t.
The Game Of Love
My heart sank a little when I heard another vocoded vocal pop up here. Really? Already? Are we that short of ideas? But I soon realised I am a dickhead. What else
was I expecting from Daft Punk? And this happens the best vocoder vocal I have ever heard. The track starts with some sleazy funk, with a feel reminiscent of Bobby Womack’s ‘Across 110th Street’ but slower. Then the vocal begins ‘you were breaking my heart, when you decided to walk away’. It’s elegiac, mournful, emotive, subtle and has so much detail – it really moved me. Some strange analogue synth top lines and solos help weird it out a bit before the closing ‘And I just wanted you to say’ refrain has you reaching for the aluminium tissues.
Giorgio By Moroder feat Giorgio Moroder
The synth legend narrates the beginning of this track, telling the tales of starting out wanting to be a musician in Germany, sleeping in his car after gigs and how he “decided on using a synthesiser because that is the sound of the future”. He then explains how he “knew we needed a click” and a click track duly starts a basic percussion line. Then a classic Moroder arpeggiated synth line kicks in and it’s goosebumps time. The chord structure and timbre of the synth line actually sounds more like Cerrone’s ‘Supernature’ but it would be churlish to brand this one in any other pigeon hole than TUNE. A highlight of the album so far, especially for more purist electronica heads.
Within feat Chilly Gonzales
Gonzales’ sad piano opening followed by another mournful vocoder vocal ‘there are so many things that I don’t understand’ but nowhere near as good as the one on track 2. It goes pretty smooth jazz in places and is quite uneventful. I suspect this may become a grower but I found this one a little dull.
Instant Crush feat Julian Casablancas
This sounds very AOR from the start with chuggy guitar chords and an 80s synth line. Julian Casablancas’ voice is produced in a strange way. It seems to be a mix of dry vocal, vocoder and autotune – while it’s great to hear something different the song again seems a little dull. Maybe it’ll be a grower. It does have a quite ridicluous OTT harmonising guitar solo that could’ve been used by Thin Lizzy circa 1976.
Lose Yourself To Dance feat Pharrell Williams
We are back on more familiar DP territory here. Heavy beats that sound a bit like the intro to Dizzee’s breakthrough ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ (where he sampled 80s rocker Billy Squier) start this stomper – only with more claps thrown in for good measure. Pharrell’s trademark falsetto implores us to “loose yourself to dance” as Nile does the business on the axe. A rising vocoder line sings “come on, come on, come on” in counterpoint to Pharrell’s chorus and this the closest we’ve had to a “harder, faster, stronger” moment so far. Destined to be a festival fave.
Touch feat Paul Williams
Wow. This sprawling tune is part Brian Eno ambient experimentalism, part musical theatre, part gospel epic and 100% nuts. Swirling sound design and spooky computer noises kick things off (lasting almost two minutes!), then Paul Williams’ fragile vocal explains how he “remembers touch”. It sounds like one of the overwrought, theatrical rock ballads you’d hear in a 70s musical like Jesus Christ Superstar – there’s even a wah wah guitar in there! Then it segues into full on show tunes mode with horns and ragtime pianos that evoke Bugsy Malone. Like I said – nuts. Things gets sparse with half time percussion and there is the mandatory vocoder bit “your home, hold on, if love is the answer, you home” with Beatlesesque ‘A Day In The Life’ type strings that rise to a big crescendo. Then we have string section with muted “We Will Rock You” type beats and a choir singing “you’re home” before it all stops dead. Silence. Then it finished with the just the vocal and the piano and the final line “I need something more”. Touched indeed – by madness and genius in equal measure.
Get Lucky feat Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers
Think you all must be pretty familiar with this one by now and don’t need me to quack about it here.
An orchestral start with strings, cymbal crashes and brass fanfares yield to early Phoenix, funk vibes, with nice muted, picked guitar line. There’s another vocoder vocal (wearing a bit thin now to be honest) and you realise this track is totally yacht rock. They even use the line ‘You are the night, you are the ocean” as if to reinforce the point. It has been mentioned elsewhere that it sounds like Warren G’s Regulate in places but it is the Michael MacDonald original track ‘Keep Forgetting’ (that Warren sampled) that this tune owes the biggest debt, too – complete with smooth Miami Vice style pastel jackets and some slow-poured boat drinks.
This cool, instrumental track with strings and flute has a real freeform jazz funk jam session vibe to start with. Then is stops dead with an almighty crunch and boom. Things get darker with a heavy, Massive Attack style drum beat and echoing, arpeggiated synths before fading into rainfall / water / rainforest vibes at the end.
Fragments Of Time feat Todd Edwards
A Phoenix feel again here. Todd Edwards is “Driving this road, down to paradise”, presumably to Laurel Canyon or the set of Boogie Nights. Sounds like they all had a lot of fun recording this but is a massive wasted opportunity. SURELY if you get Todd Edwards on a track you get him to do his Todd Edwards thing!? If he was Pavarotti I could understand getting him to sing the full song straight but – with greatest respect to ‘The God’, who’s made some of the best dance music tracks ever – his voice isn’t the best and this track really drags.
Doin It Right feat Panda Bear
A spaceage slow jam. The Animal Collective mainman delivers a slowly building stormer of a vocal underpinned by a ‘doing it right, everybody will be dancing / feeling alright everybody will be dancing tonight’ vocoder vocal and a fat 808 sounding jeep beat (possibly the first use of a drum machine so far on the album!?). Some great material here, screaming out for a dancefloor rework.
A suitably epic, prog-like ending to an album that I think will divide fans. Synths act as a bed to a voicemail message about an object shimmering and rotating in the sky. Big, cathedral, Justice style organs fire up, followed by a sick arpeggio synth bass line. Massive live drums crash in and it has the feel of The Chems’ ‘Saturate’. The song gets more and more intense with synth chords and the distorted rise that worked so well on DP’s remix of ‘Take Me Out’ by Franz Ferdinand. We peak and trough to a number of crescendos, power on by the manic drum playing before giving way to weird and spaceship noises and static.