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Daft Punk Bio-Engineers a Sleepless Sunrise

For Daft Punk, the effect appears the same, only moreso. More significantly, the pre-release and the promotion seem a continuation of a robust and highly disciplined creative process that has destined Random Access Memories for the No. 1 slot on Billboard's album charts.

Daft Punk made its name with a series of witty, polished studio albums, beginning with Homework in 1997. The second album, Discovery, in 2001, found the duo, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, adopting the personae of a pair of robots, with full helmets designed to make them look the part. The music of that album as well as the soundtrack for the 2010 movie Tron, helped define electronic dance music with a post-disco use of drum machines and heavy synthesizer arrangements.

With the latest album, the duo is reaching back to the disco era of the late '70s, using live musicians in an effort to reconnect to what Pharrell Williams described in an interview with The Creators Project as "a magical time" when involvement in the music felt like a kind of physical saturation, of being transported.

"When I heard 'Get Lucky' . . . it just felt like a place where it was forever 4 in the morning," he said. " . . . you could sort of see the sun rising in the sky. . . ."

The music on the album is indeed a beautiful, up-all-night urban sunrise. While still a masterly use of electronics, the added human pulse of the live musicians, Rodgers especially, makes each song a flesh-and-blood hug.

Quoted by the New York Times, Bangalter said the live players offer "an infinity of nuance, in the shuffles and the grooves. These things are impossible to create with machines."

In addition to Williams and Rodgers, other guest spots include a monologue by Italian electronica legend Giorgio Moroder, singer Julian Casablancas of The Strokes and '70s pop singer and actor Paul Williams, who turns in a surprisingly powerful performance on the 8-minute suite and centerpiece of the album, Touch.

The lyrics throughout R.A.M. are not memorable, resembling poetry in the way that frozen grape juice resembles a fine merlot. But that also seems calculated, as the same could have been said about the disco songs that inspired this album: Donna Summer's I Feel Love (a collaboration with Moroder) and Michael Jackson's Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, for instance. From Touch:
Touch, I remember touch
Pictures came with touch
a painter in my mind
tell me what you see
a tourist in a dream
a visitor it seems
a half-forgotten song
where do I belong?

Cheesy? Sure. Even more because it's Paul Williams' voice, ripe with an overreaching sincerity. But like the robot masks, that cheese only seems to serve the larger purpose of a good time -- no demands, no heavy lifting for the mind, just an anonymously drawn, gorgeous, hotel bubble bath, a physical epiphany that ripples over the skin.

To that end, any hint of the gymnastic disco romps of that period, songs like Summer's 1979 No. 1, Hot Stuff, or the Village People's 1978 YMCA, are excluded from the robots' input data on Random Access Memories. This album's songs are not about social empowerment, but longing and beautiful regret.
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