Matt and I talk Random Access Memories
In the interest of disclosure: as far as I am concerned, Discovery is a perfect pop album. As music, it is about as good as it gets. The joy I associate with listening to this album regularly is so intense that some tracks are too emotionally powerful to listen to now. I was young and I was in love and I listened to it every day, possibly while lifting weights. Which is just to say, Daft Punk does things for me.
Like much of Western civilization, apparently, I also had this experience of seeing the one-minute clip of “Get Lucky” and instantly recognizing we might have a beast on our hands. I mean, this thing wasn’t even a song. It was a one minute clip for chrissake, and it nearly drove me out of my skull. Musical love-at-first-sight is not a common phenomenon for me nowadays (although, “Diane Young”, about which more), but this was it.
So how is this thing? To me the best news is this: “Get Lucky” is not even the best Pharrell song on the album. It may seem incongruous to call a relentlessly smoove a piece of art a “monster,” but this album is a monster. By which I mean: these guys have attempted to incorporate every native musical capacity at their disposal on this record, and succeed for the most part.
While it is possible that someone could, through congenital defect, lack the ability to enjoy music that is this orchestrated (further disclosure: I really enjoy Sade), it is impossible to deny that this album the lofty ambitions it sets for itself.
Oh, all right. I’ll give it a go.
Someone once told me that the best pop music always reminds you of being young: not just the specific historical context of when you heard it, but the overall impression and texture of how it felt to be young as well. It’s an idealized version of youth, to be sure — one where young people are never selfish or angry or make stupid mistakes — but god, what a feeling! Discovery will always have that role for me, I’m not sure I could judge it impartially even if I wanted to. But most of that album seems engineered for preemptive nostalgia, it’s full of those dance tracks that manage to be unbearably sad even at their most uplifting moments. (New Order is another good example.) I believe that “Digital Love” is one of the most perfect pop songs of all time, but I’ll never be completely sure of that.
So you can probably guess how I feel about Random Access Memories. It caught me at weak moment; I haven’t sought out new music as much in a couple of years. But the prospect of a new Daft Punk album was just too much, and what can I say? I listened to “Get Lucky” and by the time you hear the signature Daft Punk synth riff (I think it’s in Digital Love as well?) and robot voices break down, I was sold. After a couple of years without hearing new music that I could say I absolutely loved, the feeling was similar to coming up for air. I don’t think RAM is as good as Discovery. I’m enjoying it immensely, but it’s the same part of my brain that loved “Beautiful Day” because it reminded me of U2’s absolute prime. I can’t help but wonder if I’m just enjoying the echo.
Sadly, you are right about “Digital Love.” It’s perfect.
I, too, am more or less sold on this thing. But while nostalgia certainly has a hand in whatever this album stirs up, there is something else afoot here: it’s just been a long time since there’s been good pop music about love.
I mean, how did pop music get to be such a huge bummer? At some point, the radio songs we all want to sing in a club all started being either 1) breakup anthems or 2) liquor advertisements. Don’t get me wrong, I love Drake and I enjoy rosé. But what are all the people in love gonna listen to? They need songs, because these are hard times. I mean, yeah, I get it: getting lucky is a euphemism for putting the key in the ignition. I’m a 33 year old man and I know what’s up. But the song is so exuberant! I can’t but take it in the literal sense: they’re up all night to get lucky. The luck is just being together! Music about this kind of luck is oxygen.
As an album, Random Access Memories is not without flaw. The record is frontloaded with a lot of lush, downtempo robocrooning. Which is not my favourite mode. While “Game of Love” is pretty, it feels like it deflates the buzz kicking off the needlessly funky “Give your Life Back to Music” (summer plans made!).
Fortunately, the album hits its stride with the aptly-titled “Instant Crush” and never looks back. The sometimes-stiflingly restrained vibe the band maintains throughout the album gets a real stew cooking on “Lose Yourself to Dance,” the only song that contends with “Get Lucky” for musical-miracle status. Every Daft Punk album needs a song-to-be-listened-to-on-the-bridge-of-a-starship, and “Motherboard” fits the bill.
So, basically this album is great and all of us who have got our mitts on it have gotten lucky, sometimes in a nonsexual way.
I don’t know if we’re the only ones being nostalgic here, Wes, but I think you’re right. Random Access Memories is a record about love, but it’s also a record about nostalgia as well. That’s the only way to explain the mix of 1970s production value and contemporary indie guest stars (if you can say that Pharrell and Panda Bear are stars, I suppose.) This isn’t just a wistful trip through Daft Punks’ favorite disco records. It’s not a way to cash in on Discovery’’s heartbroken-robots theme either. It’s a record that looks in both directions, and it’s at least partly an admission that Daft Punk probably couldn’t make another record as conceptually tight and musically perfect as Discovery. (I’m sure I’ve thought about this past the point of diminishing returns, but doesn’t that make “Random Access Memories” a particularly appropriate title for the record? Maybe my thoughts are just chasing their own tails at this point.)
At some point in the 1980s, Mick Jagger told Keith Richards that he didn’t want to remake “Exile on Main Street” every year. Richards response was just “Man, I wish you could.” Daft Punk probably don’t want to make Discovery every year. They probably couldn’t even if they tried. I don’t think there’s an easy way out of that situation, but there’s a maturity and an element of compromise that makes this album better than a Discovery knock-off could ever be. And I certainly plan on playing it loud and frequently in my car this summer.