[12 March 2001]
I’m one of those people who will often sit around and start conversations with phrases like “Remember when techno music was really good?” I feel so damned old school these days. You see, I was hitting the clubs like mad four days out of the week circa 1993 when there was a whole lot of great dance music being created in the techno and house genres. Lots of great singles came out from this period, such as Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams”, Hope’s “Tree Frog”, N.R.G.‘s “I Need Your Lovin’”, Crazy Ivan’s “Mozart’s Revenge”, Two Little Boys’ “Stylophonia”, and Psykosonik’s “Silicon Jesus” to name but a few. But then the great techno buzz became too loud and the record industries started jumping at their chances to promote it as the next big thing. Prodigy was the only band who scored a big deal out of the whole brouhaha, and since then the buzz has faded away, with techno having crashed into other such subgenres as jungle over the past few years. I admit to not being impressed with the overall groove anymore.
However, France has certainly upped the ante lately with Dimitri From Paris and Air, two highly listenable and often entertaining electronic artists who have offered the audiences something different and refreshing away from the usual drum’n'bass and house crank. Add to that list Paris’ own Daft Punk who have been wowing the critics since 1993 with their debut single “The New Wave”. In 1997, the duo (Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter) issued their debut album Homework on Virgin to much critical acclaim. After four more years, Daft Punk has returned with their sophomore long-player Discovery and for all intents and purposes it’s one hell of an album.
Now let me be the first to say I’m pretty damned sick of the robot vocoder voice that has been in countless dance tunes ever since Cher first threw it into overkill on “Believe”. So it was with much apathy when I first listened to Daft Punk’s first single from Discovery, “One More Time”. Featuring Romanthony on robot vocoded lead vocals, the tune is your typical dance tune about dance celebration. Nothing overly funky nor very satisfying. Had I stopped right there, Daft Punk would have become another recent group that I would have passed over completely. Thankfully, that was not the case as the rest of the album turned out to be some of the best dance music I’ve heard in a long time.
The group has a real penchant for ‘70s cheese, and I do mean that in a very good way. The first time I heard the retro keyboard swirls and instant-payoff melody of “Digital Love” (which comes off as a cross between the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” and White Town’s “Your Woman” in the vocal department), I was hooked. Then the sloppy-but-tight funk of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” came out of my speakers and I knew I was done for. Images of disco balls, leisure suits, and multi-colored dance floors filled my head. Yes, Daft Punk can do the ‘70s quite convincingly without turning it into another transparent bid for hipness like so many other groups have done lately. These guys are the real deal.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. “Aerodynamic” is one hell of an instrumental that features some of the most innovative uses of guitar that I’ve heard in dance music such as this in quite a long time. “Something About Us” is slow funk-lite, “Voyager” floats along on a cool musical breeze, and “Short Circuit” will have you recalling the good old days of hip-hop with its breakbeats and unmistakable ‘80s synth lines. With all this good stuff going on, there can’t be any room for error, right? Wrong. Albums such as these usually have a couple clinkers, and Discovery is no different. “Crescendolls”, “Superheroes”, and “High Life” are all built around some quite annoying loops that don’t really ever take off. It would have been all right if the loops themselves didn’t come off sounding like skipping records, but they do and get annoying pretty fast. The three songs are decent if you’re not concentrating on them, but if you’re listening alone chances are that you’ll probably be hitting the skip button a couple times to get around them.
Don’t let that stop you from buying this one, though. The rest of Discovery is lots of fun, proving once again that dance music is best when not taken too seriously. Daft Punk has realized this well on this album, and I have a feeling that Discovery is going to go down in the books as one of the best entries into the dance and techno genre. So dust off those boogie shoes once more because this one’s chock full of grooves that will leave you wanting more long after the disc is over.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/daftpunk-discovery/