Daft Punk’s New Record (And Also About Records Generally)
A few weeks ago, I lost my mind about Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” I lost it to the point that I got suckered for an fan’s recreation of the song, then a leaked version of the song, then finally, the actual song. In every case, I loved it.
Now the album is out and I’m thrilled to report that it is…an album! Umm, with 13 songs? That’s good, right? And it features some good tracks! But also some bad tracks…goddamned albums. Let’s deal with that part first.
I dislike albums. No, wait, that’s not strong enough. I hate albums. Not all of them necessarily; there are some very good albums out there. But the vast majority of them are meh and there are a few examples of nightmarish disasters that are better worth never ever considering (like everything by Rush for example*). The problem is the medium itself compounded by the marketing.
This isn’t the fault of musicians. Creating 40-70 minutes of great music every two years is an outrageous human achievement. Given my own dysfunction at achieving anything personally musical, I can assure you that I’m entirely serious about the respect that I have for musicians that can create 40-70 minutes of great music over an entire career. Hell, I’m impressed by musicians that can do it even once**.
The music industry though? It’s in the game to make money, and for a very long time, selling us records were a great way of doing that. If customers could get hooked on a single track, they could be sold the album, often without any way to find out what the rest of the record sounded like. Which is how, in the mid-1990s, I ended repeatedly getting home with records only to discover that the great song I’d heard on the album was the only one worth listening to. Was I too picky? Perhaps. But it only took a few $15 failures before my blooded started boiling at the scam that was being perpetrated on the music buying public.
I wasn’t alone in my disgust with the model. Technological innovators recognized the problem too – although they might not have worded it precisely as I did – and they fixed it, putting a premium on songs instead of records, and suddenly, getting burdened by an album’s worth of garbage for a song’s worth of brilliance wasn’t the only way to have music.
Which brings me to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, an album that definitely isn’t great. I’m not even sure I’d call it good. The track that I freaked out about? “Get Lucky” is still fantastic but like so many bait-and-switch musical experiences, it doesn’t really fit with everything else that’s going on here. The rest of the album is a slow, pondering exploration of sonic themes and Nile Rodgers‘ guitars. It includes a nine-minute track in which Giorgio Moroder (one of electronic music’s pioneers) tells his backstory as a means of helping us, perhaps, better understand Daft Pink’s influences. Many of the tracks are entirely tolerable but they’re to be serious disappointments for those (me) who’d come looking for more of “Get Lucky.”
Then there’s “Fragments Of Time”, a track recorded apparently just to personally irritate me; it sounds like everything that was awful about late-70’s, early 80’s easy listening music. The appropriate reaction to it is something along the lines of a very aggressive, “What the F-CK?!” followed by taking the CD out of the player and whipping it into the ocean.
Random Access Memories can thus be considered a disappointment, not because it doesn’t have moments of greatness, but because it is a mess thematically. It seems to simply be a mish-mash of whatever Daft Punk was interested in at the time. Maybe that’s not as problematic as it once was, given our ability to easily pick songs we want to listen to, but I still can’t help feeling like a disappointed 15-year-old when I realize that the first song I heard from the album is easily the best song from the album.
One other thing: my disappointment here doesn’t change the fact that Daft Punk can easily be credited with creating a 40-70 minutes of worthwhile music. Taking into account how truly difficult it is to catch audible lightning in a bottle, bands that could assemble a truly great Greatest Hits record at the end of their career are the ones that tend to interest me. Daft Punk could do that, no matter how disappointing this particular outing was.
*I’m kidding Rush fans***!
**Fine Young Cannibals, I’m looking at you.
***I’m totally not kidding. I really don’t like Rush.