Random Access Memories: The Emperor’s New Helmet Noah KlineSunday, June 2, 2013Reviews6,960 Comments The title of this article is everything that it seems. A forced reference to a story that was classic decades, and possibly centuries ago. The story is about a vain emperor who cares about nothing more than possessing the best luxuries in life. In his quest, he hires two young tailors who promise to craft him the finest clothes in the world. They proclaim that the clothes are so fine that they cannot be seen by anyone who is “hopelessly stupid” or “unfit for their position”. The tailors show the garments to the emperor’s ministers, who both falsely claim that they can see the clothes in fear of losing their job or being viewed as inferior. The emperor does the same and the swindling tailors mime dressing him up and send him out on the city to parade his new ‘outfit’. His subjects cheer and play into the masquerade, for all their peers see the clothes, and surely they must not come across as stupid or unfit. The farse continues until one child, too young to care about consequence or losing face, proclaims that the emperor is indeed wearing nothing. Electric Sloth is going to step up and be the child in the story. If you love Daft Punk regardless of their musical content, please just stop reading this. For Daft Punk‘s fourth studio album, the elusive pair promised an ambitious new album, swathed in brilliant production and featuring a cast of all star musicians from four different decades. As if speculation and excitement didn’t set the bar high enough, Columbia Records released a ‘Collaborators Series’ which essentially featured various different collaborators from the album praising the duo’s incredible vision, work ethic, production, and prowess as musicians. ‘Random Access Memories’ looked poised to be a dance music masterpiece, that would both bring the life and soul back into dance music and set the tone for the future of dance music. The first single, ‘Get Lucky’, hinted at what was to actually come from the album. Despite a funky groove and a catchy chorus, ‘Get Lucky’ is nothing more than a good pop single. It stuck to the glossy, lifeless, pop production that is on nearly every member of the Billboard Top 40, with the exception of Nile Rodgers’ funky guitar and a brief yet brilliant stint of vocoder genius toward the end of the song. But for the most part, ‘Get Lucky’ left most Daft Punk fans disappointed and let down. Who would have thought that it would be the highlight of the album? In their quest to bring life back to electronic music, they forgot what actually gives life to music. It’s not the instruments; it’s the human interaction and spontaneity that bring the life into music, of which there was next to none. Every song, every part, every synth, every vocoder, were all painstakingly crafted to create a polished album devoid of the fun and soul that makes disco worth listening to. All of that would almost be excusable if ‘Random Access Memories’ had offered up a less derivative album. To call this album ambitious is not only a lie, but an irony in itself. Not one song stands out as something new or creative, and as a whole, the album plays like a very good parody of a 70s or 80s movie soundtrack. The album is the antithesis of innovation and progress, as every song sounds like a rehash of a musical idea that had been thoroughly explored decades ago. Their most obviously ‘ambitious’ track is ‘Giorgio by Moroder’, where a very solid dance epic is nearly ruined by a mumbled voiceover from Giorgio Moroder. Whatever concept Daft Punk was trying to achieve on that song fell flat and the voiceover only serves as a reminder to the poorly realized ambition that this album represents. Even the melodies and songwriting sound uninspired and elementary. ‘Fragments of Time’ sounds like a poorly executed Steeley Dan imitation and Todd Edward‘s vocals manage to be both slightly out of tune and incredibly cheesy. ‘Touch’ sounds straight out of an Off Broadway musical and the vocals feel over the top and melodramatic so much to the point where the listener can’t help but chuckle. No doubt Paul Williams has written some great song, better that he be known for those than this parody of his heyday. Two instances of very poor melody writing are the solos on ‘The Game of Love’ and on ‘Instant Crush’. Forget outdated, I find many of the melodies throughout the album to be downright bad. But there’s at least the outstanding production, right? ‘Random Access Memories’ is a perfect reminder of why bigger is not always better. Daft Punk trekked to the best recording studios, brought on the best studio musicians, and utilized the best analog equipment, yet the result is far from the masterpiece that it is supposed to be. The vocoders which Bangalter and Homem Cristo supposedly spent weeks perfecting sound very much like the default setting on Logic Studio’s EVOC vocoder throughout the album. The robotic leads sound flat and uninspired and their delivery is without punch, character or dynamic (the exception is the vocoder chorus of ‘Get Lucky’, which almost reminds the listener of the creative use of the vocoder on ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’). For the most part the production sounds bland and almost flat. The production ‘Random Access Memories’ is not by any means awful, yet it lacks character and depth in an album that was supposed to bring the life back into music. As the great Bruce Swedien once said, “No one dances to the recording equipment.” The album’s content simply isn’t strong enough on its own to even be furthered by any production, no matter how good it might be. The real meaning of good production is not how much money and talent goes into it, but how the production helps an artist invoke emotion in the listener, and unfortunately the production on this album fails in that respect. There is this strange notion that Daft Punk is nothing short of musical genius and visionary. It is as if they can do nothing wrong. Everything they create is a masterpiece. They are viewed as if by wearing robot helmets that they are immune to human error and shortcoming. If ‘Random Access Memories’ was composed by a different artist, and people were not privy to the grandiose production of the album, it would have been dismissed as nothing more than a decent throwback act. There is very little that sets it apart other than the name tied to it. Unfortunately, much like in The Emperor’s New Clothes, the world refuses to treat Random Access Memories as anything less than an ambitious masterpiece. Afraid of being accused of ‘not getting it’, blogs and magazines alike praised the album universally. Pitchfork even had the gall to say of it that “there’s a creeping notion that every musical idea that’s ever been so much as thought up is on this album”. It is mindless praise such as this that is more often than not being used to describe Random Access Memories. Objectivity falls by the wayside when one’s reputation and sophistication is at stake, and even the most respected sources have fallen victim. They’re not wearing any clothes.