For two guys whose last two prominent forays were received in less than stellar fashion, the forging even further from familiar on their latest takes balls of the AC/DC kind. With the lifelong friends knowing the stakes -- using every bit of pull to create the absurdly talented supporting cast -- Daft Punk takes whoever's willing on an illustrious, albeit inconsistent, joyride.
The bombastic intro opening up the most anticipated album of the year strikes to the quick of Daft Punk's sound on "Random Access Memories." The epitome of reinventing the wheel on a track-to-track basis mines the radio hits of their teenage years... heavily. Still, the star-studded disco jaunt kicks everything off right, punching straight through the speakers and soundtracking the sweat. Nile Rodgers' intricate guitar work just gives the song infinite repeatability.
Unfortunately, "The Game of Love" comes next. Half a testament to the depths of loneliness the sad robots can reach, the cut dawdles through downtown alleys and wastes its lush, textured audioscape. Still, it offers more hope and warmth than "Within" or "Instant Crush." The former boringly steps over the cliff of existentialism while the latter sounds like a rejected Car's track -- starring Julian Casablancas' just-swallowed-digital-helium falsetto.
On the other hand, the album's best cuts typically derive from Daft Punk's ability to swirl many genres into one shape-shifting saga. "Giorgio by Moroder" melds the sounds the 20-somethings from Darlin' always wanted to pay tribute to, fleshed out with a career's worth of influences and a few signature touches that earned them that career. The track shifts from the namesake's history lesson, backed by the "Tron" soundtrack's logical evolution, before a Modern Jazz Quartet-style interlude. The swan dive into the most effective orchestra set piece of the album -- adorning the heartbeat click of the track with its nuanced emotion -- tempers the breakdown recalling Mahavishnu Orchestra. Finally, the Jeff Beck-ian solo launches the nine-minute track back into its Moog horizon.
The seven-minute "Touch" rivals that cut, featuring Paul Williams reminiscing about the all-consuming need to feel, a ragtime piano, classic jazz trumpet and DP's signature talkbox leading the way for this year's vogue, an accompanying choir. "Fragments of Time," in contrast, borrows the cheese of Hall & Oates hits wholesale, artfully appropriating the tight-knit pop chops as well -- the familiar vocals come from Todd Edwards, who previously guested on the also excellent "Face to Face." For better and for worse, the song wouldn't be out of place during the end credits of any given early '80s blockbuster.
Plenty of co-credits are due throughout the liner notes -- Niles Rodgers' and Pharrell's fingerprints are all over the ass-shakers of the album (a sweltering "Lose Yourself to Dance" and the infectious "Get Lucky") -- but it is prolific session guys like Nathan East, James Genus, J.R. Robinson and Omar Hakim that keep the album's quality consistently high.
The album's closer "Contact" serves as the most earnest EDM effort -- the synthesizer dominates the only song to include a sample. It opens as if escaping an imploding Castle Dracula, sending chills down the spine all the same. The infinitely rising synth and constantly crashing drums cut only after having shuttled the listener beyond the infinite like Dr. David Bowman.
Jay-Z's nugget of intelligence -- "(Fans) want my old shit, buy my old album" - applies heavily, as "Random Access Memories" is anything but "Discovery 2.0." The album is much less robots pulling off inhuman pop tricks with an uncanny ear for samples and much more two middle-aged men paying respect to the music they grew up on.
Simultaneously, the duo's creeping message that they've done everything they want to within the confines of their computers -- thus the experimentation inherent in a 20-years deep, techno EDM act restricting the electronic components to drum machines, vocoders and a synthesizer -- is more than evident.
"Contact" offers a glimpse into that message with the recorded words of Captain Eugene Cernan, the last man to leave the surface of the moon. On his ride home, having done everything he wanted to within the confines of the Apollo 17 mission, he still marvels at an unfamiliar phenomena in the distance: "flashing...in a very rhythmic fashion...I don't know if this does you any good...but there's something out there."
Whether Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo continue to pursue it themselves or are bowing out for the next in line, Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories" guides the listener through an inexpugnable, unrepeatable voyage.