28 Jan 2013

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, shame on who?

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What a magical weekend. Burns Night was celebrated with whiskey, haggis and deep-fried Mars Bars on Friday. The snow that finally settled on Sheffield in the early hours of Saturday allowed for an afternoon spent hurtling down steep hills as fast as my Olympic louge fantasies would allow. The FA Cup provided one of the best weekends of giant killing we’ve seen in a long time. And, by Sunday, rumours of a new Daft Punk album were rife. As I said, a magical weekend, no?

Well, I was left delighted by all but one of those events. Unlike all around me, I have been left distinctly underwhelmed by the news that Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo have signed to Columbia with the intention of releasing a new studio album in the spring.

Daft Punk are seminal in my life. In 1997, when I was just 16, I was in the sixth form common room when someone put on a cassette copy of ‘Homework’. It blew my world apart; I instantly fell in love with it. From the first few seconds of ‘Daftendirekt’, all filtered tease and suggestion as to what lay in wait, through the unrelenting assault of ‘Rollin n Scratchin’, to the cheeky ‘Funk Ad’, a 50 second flip of ‘Da Funk’ that was the brilliant little punctuating twist, it’s hard to argue that ‘Homework’ isn’t damn near perfect.

So it was with a sense of ever increasing anticipation that I eagerly awaited the 2001 release of ‘Discovery’. Admittedly, lead single ‘One More Time’ tempered this somewhat, but I didn’t believe for one second that it could be a true reflection of the rest of the album. On the day of release I picked up my copy in HMV, before winding my way back from Liverpool to university in Stirling. As soon as I got in, the needle was put to the groove and I lay back on my bed, awaiting the musical wonders that were undoubtedly coming.

It is still, to this day, the biggest musical disappointment of my life. I didn’t expect them to touch the heights of their debut, but I also didn’t expect… That. The staggering synthesis of styles that had been the hallmark of ‘Homework’ was confoundingly conspicuous by its absence. Having listened to it once, I played it through in its entirety once again; this time joined by my housemate Neil, a man as enamoured with the French duo as I was. His reaction was as condemning as my own, only put ever so more bluntly, “Bag o’ shite!” There was no argument from me.

Soon after people cited hearsay that the studio had been burnt down only months before release, forcing a hastily cobbled together replacement to be put together in order to meet with the scheduled release date. But that ‘story’ had merely been a part of the publicity campaign, a form of backstory to explain the robot helmets the pair were now sporting instead of masks. (At least they’d spent their time, money and effort on something, I suppose.) And even if it had been true, Daft Punk were big enough at that stage to insist on the necessary time required for a faithful recreation of anything that had been lost. ‘Discovery’ appeared as was intended.

But a few months later, ‘Alive 97’ was released. It is pant-wettingly wonderful. Recorded in Birmingham during the ‘Homework’ tour, it captures Daft Punk rinsing that debut for all it’s worth. I can still listen to it and be left a tingle with goosebumps. However, does it not seem a bit strange that, with ‘Discovery’ barely fresh off the presses, a live recording of the first album should be so quick to follow? Surely you would want to give your new album room to breathe? If you genuinely believed that it was a deserving successor, then you wouldn’t want to cloud people’s appreciation of it with memories of what had come before; at least not until the live shows.

Only, ‘Discovery’ was never toured. The one good thing that could have come from that album was denied us. And as for ‘Alive 97’, it all makes sense if you think of it as an apology. They realised the mistake they’d made. They realised that they had alienated a chunk of their fan base. They realised they needed to make amends in some way, and quickly. So they put out something that would remind us that they were still capable of concocting music that would burst your heart at a thousand paces; that they could still leave you slack-jawed in awe; that they were still Daft Punk.

My views on ‘Discovery’ were simply compounded a few years later, when the You Tube video drawing comparisons between the samples used and the tunes created appeared. If you haven’t seen it, then check it out via this link…

Lazy, unimaginative and crude were the first words that sprung into my head when I heard that. Everything that ‘Homework’ wasn’t.

Despite this, I still had the same sense of anticipation for the release of ‘Human After All’ in 2005. Surely it couldn’t be any worse? Well, it wasn’t. But nor was it any better. If anything, it was just dull and forgettable. It was as though Daft Punk were trying to recapture the form so ably demonstrated on ‘Homework’, but lacked the spark, the magic, that had been so prevalent on that debut. Yet they claimed at the time that this was their personal favourite out of the three studio albums they had made! Really? That’s the one that gives you the most satisfaction? That’s the one you’d direct your children to first as your pride and joy?

This is why I’m not excited by a new Daft Punk studio album. Everything since ‘Homework’ that has appeared under the name Daft Punk has been average at best. In what way does that warrant any level of excitement? Some seem to be salivating at the list of supposed collaborators that’s circulating: Nile Rodgers; Paul Williams; Giorgio Moroder; Feist; Chilly Gonzales; Pharrell; Panda Bear. (Alright, I am excited about the last one.) That list seems to contain as many names as the tracklist most probably will songs. Are Bangalter and Homem-Christo really that devoid of ideas that they can’t make an album unless it’s powered by other talent? I mean, that makes it even easier than ripping some samples and doing little other than looping them, surely. And who’s going to turn down Daft Punk?

Because the name Daft Punk still carries a huge allure. But it’s not because of what’s come out of the studio and appeared on wax; it’s because of their live shows. I’ve never seen them in concert. The closest I ever got was at the age of 17. I was supposed to go to the Tribal Gathering event they were headlining in Luton. A load of my mates went. They assured me that it was one of the greatest things they have ever seen. I had to miss it, for I was on a family weekend break at Alton Towers. It is the one and only time I have hated every second of being in the UK’s thrill-seeking mecca.

I have heard the recordings and seen the footage though. Unleashed from the confines of a studio, with a captivated audience in front of them, Daft Punk can still recapture that magic that made them so enticing; so special; so essential. The material from their two most recent albums has new life breathed into it in a way not witnessed since Jesus raised Lazarus. They manipulate their material in such a way as to enchant you all over again. If they were to read this article, they could dismiss what I have written as nonsense by nonchalantly pointing me in the direction of these live performances. It is within their stage show that the legacy of their genius lives.

I will be delighted if this fourth album turns out to be everything I’ve hoped for previously; everything I daren’t hope for again. I’ll happily have people reference this and call me an idiot if I’m wrong, because it means we’ve got an amazing Daft Punk album and I’ll be too busy listening to it to hear what anyone says. But I doubt that’ll be the case.

What I am looking forward to, the thing that is making me tingle with anticipation this time round, is the live show. And yet, with that, Rob Da Bank, a man with a vested interest, has already been quoted as saying, “We got told months ago that Daft Punk were definitely not touring next year, but it keeps the rumour mill going.” It seems I’m destined to be eternally teased and forever frustrated when it comes to Daft Punk; all one more time with no rock n roll.

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