Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
It’s the gayest album you’ll encounter this year, and I mean that in the most rainbow-hued sense. Youngsters can’t possibly understand how, once upon a time, disco music represented a line in the sand. It’s tragic but true that subtle elements of racism and overt elements of homophobia rendered it anathema to rock ‘n’ roll; you couldn’t listen to both rock and disco, and to be a member of the former tribe but admit to kinda liking that latest Chic or Donna Summer single was to risk being called a goddam faggot.
I bring this up because my initial reaction upon hearing Random Access Memories was to smirk reflexively. Meanwhile, the kids coming in to buy it at the record store I work at bore no trace of hipster irony – they just dug the music. I was the guy with the baggage. It was a teachable moment. So I listened.
What I learned: this is a dazzling album, steeped in soul and brimming with an uncommon musicality, all rhythmic urgency and compelling melodies and anthemic choruses. Traditional disco tropes abound, from vocoder-drenched vocals to handclaps-as-percussion to sleeky-silky fretboard flourishes (and yes, that is Nile Fucking Rodgers playing guitar throughout the album – speaking of tradition). But as with the aforementioned consumers, there’s no winking irony at play. Listen to, say, the exuberantly funky “Get Lucky,” featuring guest vocalist Pharrell Williams giving the performance of his life as Rodgers and Paul Jackson Jr. weave an insistent bed of riffage beneath him; or the dreamy, atmospheric soul of “The Game of Love” that concludes with a heartbreaking observation from the lonely vocoderist, “You decided to walk away… me, I just wanted you to stay.” It’s emotionally profound, with a subtle elegance, and it’s sonically serendipitous, too, in the way that the songs’ hooks remain with you long after the record has spun.
And my god, Daft Punk actually corralled disco godfather Giorgio Moroder to contribute to the nine-minute track bearing his name, in which he expounds upon his inspirations both then and now, which can be boiled down to: making and enjoying music is about freeing your mind. In the current cultural climate, we need more of this. So if it takes a pair of effete Frogs wearing silly robot helmets to help further this simple yet timeless notion – vive la discothèque! – so be it.
Random Access Memories