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The French electronic duo, recognized for their space-age helmets as much as for hits like “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “One More Time,” returned Tuesday with Random Access Memories, their hotly anticipated fourth studio album. The record comes eight years after the pair’s last studio release, Human After All, in which time the duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo also composed the score to 2010’s Tron: Legacy.
Random Access Memories fuses digital instrumentation to a disco feel, with contributors ranging from Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers to rapper Pharrell Williams and the Strokes singer Julian Casablancas. The record received wide acclaim from critics, who praise its scope while deeming it at times excessive.
Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz calls it “a messy album, filled with passages that can be trimmed and one or two too many plodding songs.” But he praises the record’s sheer, danceable enthusiasm. “When Daft Punk score on ‘R.A.M.,’ like they do with both Pharrell Williams collaborations [‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’] and on the killer Julian Casablancas track ‘Instant Crush,’ dance music fans can sit back and marvel at the results before finding their legs and reporting to the dance floor,” Lipshutz writes.
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Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson admires the album’s mix of genres, “all rendered with an amazing level of detail,” and how the “mind-bogglingly lush record” runs counter to quicker, cheaper methods of music production and consumption. “You never know, but my guess is that people will be listening to Random Access Memories a decade hence,” he writes.
Writing for Rolling Stone, Will Hermes opines that the album’s “brilliance is often irrefutable — like when the exquisitely funky rhythm guitar of Nile Rodgers flickers through ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Lose Yourself to Dance,’ or when studio grandmasters Omar Hakim and John JR Robinson create godhead break beats apparently using drumsticks instead of loop triggers (see the prog-rock freakout ‘Contact’).”
MTV‘s James Montgomery praised the band for looking to history for its new record, writing “Rather than attempt to dig through the present, they’re rediscovering the past. It is not a reinvention so much as it is a revolution; their attempt to liberate themselves from dance music entirely.” He adds the duo does so “within reason,” noting “as you can gather from first single ‘Get Lucky,’ there’s still plenty to boogie to on Memories.”
Jim Farber, writing for New York Daily News, found Daft Punk’s incorporation of live instruments gives the album much of its “excitement.” But he ultimately qualified his praise. “It offers such a bold leap ahead for its genre, it’s sad that the songs aren’t as strong as they could have been,” he writes. “None have the genius of peak dance hits. Ultimately, that leaves Memories more an admirable reach than a perfect realization.
In her NPR review, Ann Powers gave kudos to the duo for its ’70s-inspired sound, noting it harkened to the pleasures people explored in that decade. But, that could also alienate the audience, she opined. “The problem with exploring how pleasure worked in earlier times is that some people now just won’t relate,” Powers wrote.
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