Random Access Memories – Looking Back on Daft Punk’s Unexpected Final Piece
March 3, 2021
About 99.9% of the time only the editors read these things, but I would like to think that I actually put some work into my reviews. They may not be good, or just straight out too bloated, but I like making these.
So there I was, struggling for new ideas when the news hit a few days ago that Daft Punk had officially disbanded after posting a farewell video, non-vocally stating the end of their career. It was unexpected and heartbreaking at the same time for me; this group was one of the key figures of my middle school days, as stupid and cheesy as that sounds. But to this day I still admire them, and to suddenly learn that they had broken up gave me the idea to look back on their music after not listening to them for a few years. What have they left behind? And for the reader, who is Daft Punk?
Completely changing the genre of house music, Daft Punk is a French music duo that is most recognizable by their iconic robotic helmets. These two are named Guy-Manuel and Thomas Bangalter. Together from 1993-2021, they have completely reworked the standard base for house music. If you’re confused by the term “house”, it’s essentially dance music, or EDM as you could say. As long as Daft Punk’s career was (which was almost 30 years), they had only made four official albums, including a soundtrack album for the movie of Tron: Legacy. Despite seemingly offering little options when it comes to listening to their music, each of their albums is almost entirely unique in terms of style and atmosphere. They have many hits including “One More Time”, “Around the World”, “Get Lucky”, and many more. They have even co-starred on some of The Weekend’s more recent songs such as “Starboy”, and “I Feel It Coming”. They are, in my opinion, a good example of the saying of “quality over quantity”.
With this edition I am going to take a look at their most recent and unexpected final album. This is Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, which was released in 2013. It is the group’s most ambitious album in terms of style. Bangalter had stated, “We wanted every sound to come from scratch, and create a sonic world from the ground up.” They did just that, building a flashy and retro world of 70s/80s disco and dance music.
“Get Lucky” is the first track that most people would recognize going into this album. It featured Pharrell Williams and was played extensively over the radio when it first released. This track is something that gives you the feeling of “Congratulations” or “Mission Accomplished”. It’s catchy, motivational, and downright groovy. Nile Rodgers, who plays the guitar on most of this album, brings it all together with his flashy and clean guitar playing, which compliments Pharell’s melody and fits nicely into the drum beat and smooth synthesizers. This track is a driving dance track and with its popularity, could be considered a classic of Daft Punk’s hit singles.
“We’ve come too far to give up who we are, so let’s raise the bar and shoot for the stars!” -Pharrell Williams – Get Lucky.
One of my absolute favorite tracks on this album is “Lose Yourself to Dance”, which also features Pharrell Williams. The track is very different from the rest of the album. This song brings the dance pace much slower than a song like “Get Lucky”. It’s slower, simpler, and feels cooler. The song brings you in with a steady pounding drum beat as the wind chimes blow into your ears escorting you into this whole other side of this fictional dance club. Nile Rodgers’ guitar provides a simple two-chord melody, while Bangalter provides a deep and funky bassline. Then Pharrell Williams gets more intimate with the listener, leading you on with his smooth-high falsettos. The track escalates slightly adding more elements to keep the track going. The subtle claps to the beat and the counteracting vocoded melodies coming from Manuel and Bangalter all come together to bring a track that has been unheard of from Daft Punk. It’s smoother, slower, and more laid back than most of the groups more well known tracks. And with this track you could easily picture yourself in a packed 80s dance club with flashing lights and sparkly clothing while the group plays atop of the balcony.
“I know you don’t get a chance to take a break this often. I know your life is speeding and isn’t stopping. You take my shirt and just go ahead and wipe up all the, sweat, sweat, sweat, lose yourself to dance” – Pharrell Williams – Lose Yourself to Dance.
While this album is full of spectacular dance tracks, Daft Punk has also taken the time to create some much more meaningful tracks on this album. Tracks such as “Giorgio by Moroder” and “Within” are unusual staples within the album. “Giorgio by Moroder” is essentially a nine minute instrumental with a voice over by Giovanni Giorgio, who is one of the pioneering figures of European disco and dance music. Giorgio tells his story of how he sort of started his career, sleeping in his car while after he travels several hours to his performances and realizing that he wanted to be a full-time musician. Daft Punk seems to compliment Giorgio’s story very well with this instrumental softening as Giorgio speaks, and escalating during the times when he is not. The instrumental takes a more traditional style of disco while Giorgio tells his story and it is overall a well laid out track. Instrumentals can be hard to listen to all the way if you don’t have a lot of patience, and I think Daft Punk does a decent job at keeping the listener entertained as Giorgio tells his meaningful and heartfelt story. “Within” is very much a slow track by Daft Punk, something you don’t really hear in a lot of house artists. The track is practically a ballad in which it features Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzales as accompaniment. Gonzales drifts you along with his smooth piano playing as the robotic voice of one of the vocalists of Daft Punk sings a story of feeling lost in the world. It’s kind of a pretty song to me, and I have more respect for the group for taking such a drastic turn in their sound for this album. While it is certainly not my most favorite track of the album, I still enjoyed listening to Daft Punk taking more chances within their music.
“There are so many things that I don’t understand, there’s a world within me that I cannot explain. Many rooms to explore, but the doors look the same. I am lost, I can’t even remember my own name.” – Daft Punk – Within.
The rest of this album can be considered classic Daft Punk with a twist. While the rest of these songs take the usual dance track sound, they each have something different to offer. Daft Punk has created an entire atmosphere from the ground up full of fun disco and glamour. The groovy rhythmic guitars carry most of these tracks on with a flash, the drum machine and bass make for a tight and simple rhythm section that make up the booming sound that drives the songs. Tracks like “Motherboard”, “Doin’ It Right”, and “Give Life Back To Music” are perfect examples of this description. Other songs like “Beyond” and “The Game of Love” are more laid back tracks that make for a more chill accompaniment that brings down the mood after a pumped up party. It’s the sense of fresh air before the party kicks back up again. It is a nice balance that switches accordingly and fits nicely for the pace of the album.
Random Access Memories was an album nobody could have predicted to be Daft Punk’s final piece. It was after only a couple of features with The Weekend and years of silence until the group broke the news of their final days. It hit pretty hard, but with Random Access Memories it made for a good final album to land on. It is better for artists to make a really good album and retire, rather than force themselves to keep making music, and have the quality of their music degrade over time. Sure the fans may keep asking for more music because they think the artists can keep going, but it’s up to the artists when they think they’re done and no more ideas work anymore. Personally, I respect Daft Punk for ending their career on this album. Would I have wanted more music from them? Most definitely, but I believe the group ending on this particular album leaves a good note. It is their most ambitious album to date and they made a big recovery after the previous somewhat duped album Human After All. Daft Punk left a legacy behind, almost revolutionizing the genre of house music, and for them to set the bar higher again with their final album is something not a lot of artists can do. And for that, I highly respect them.
Favorite Tracks: Lose Yourself to Dance, Motherboard, The Game of Love, Get Lucky.