DAFT PUNK, Human After All
director's cut, Blender, 2005
by Simon Reynolds
every great band, there’s a moment of optimum ripeness, the point at
which they deserve to conquer the world. Daft Punk reached it with
2001’s Discovery, on which they deliciously wove elements of
Seventies FM radio soft-rock into their trademark French disco-house.
The result was beauties like “One More Time" (electronica’s “More Than A
Feeling”, a hymn to the redemptive power of music itself) and “Digital
Love” (this decade’s most poignant love song so far). By rights Discovery should have shifted Thriller-level
quantities, but instead it sold a merely decent half-million in
America. After such a (relative) rebuff, even the most fanatical sonic
visionaries might find it hard to muster renewed passion for the
aesthetic battle. Sadly, the most powerful sensation emitted by Human After All is of a group going through the motions. Everything burstingly ecstatic and open-hearted about Discovery
has been replaced by an archly ironic dance-rock that feels desultory
and numb verging on autistic. It’s as if the duo--Thomas Bangalter and
Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo--have retreated into their studio playpen to
lick their wounds.
Discovery alchemized its shlocky
sources (ELO, Supertramp, Van Halen) to achieve a splendor of sound that
felt almost religious. This time round, the endless vocoderized
man-machine vocals feel about as fresh as a post-Comes Alive
Frampton album,. The clipped and clinical-sounding guitar riffs distil
the air-punching aggression of a thousand sports stadium anthems and
the four-square beats are about as funky as The Scorpions. When Daft
Punk do come up with a great lick--“Robot Rock,” “Television Rules The
Nation”--they don’t go anywhere with it, just wear out its welcome
through deadening reiteration.
Human After All does
improve with repeated listens. Every track contains a couple of cool
sounds (often strange metallic gurgles like a cyborg with indigestion).
“Steam Machine” is so plodding and cumbersome, its ugliness becomes
strangely compelling. “The Brainwasher” raises a smile with its opening
parody of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” “Technologic” cleverly replicates
the neurotic restlessness of the computer age with its looped vocal
running through the endless options that “enhance” our lives: “plug it,
play it, burn it, rip it, drag and drop it, zip - unzip it,” ad
Revealingly, though, the most endearing track is the
least robo-rockin’. With its mellow piano and idyllic guitar-picking
conjuring a mood of sensuality tinged with sadness, “Make Love” could
almost be a Bruce Hornsby loop. It’s the only time this album approaches
the bittersweet bliss of its predecessor Discovery. Mostly, Human After All is
the proverbial diminished return. If you’re already a fan, you’ll most
likely learn to love this album. But once upon a time Daft Punk looked
like it was going to be so much more than merely a cult band.
FAVES of 2001
TOP TEN SINGLES
1/ Daft Punk, "Digital Love" (Virgin)
hot pink electric jizz
TOP TWENTY ALBUMS
2/ DAFT PUNK Discovery (Virgin)
Surely the best "Side One" of any CD in recent memory, those first six songs up to and including the "I'm Not In Love" rip-off. "Digital Love" (Kieran's favorite tune of the year, heavy-rotated to the point of almost being ruined for me) does the kitsch/kosmik "camp sublime" like nothing since since World Of Twist's "Sons of the Stage": yummy Supertramp lick, Van Halen-like frothing geyser ejaculations of guitarspunk. Love that filtered sound on "Digital" and "One More Time": sorta glossy and faded at the same time, like if plastic could rust. A few dull patches of filter-house by numbers, but "Something About Us' is a heartbreakingly tentative love song, and "Veridis Quo" is like the wistful theme from an early Eighties French movie about a lonely girl in Toulouse or something. I like the way they've stuck with the vocoder thing way beyond it being utterly played-out. Are they saying something about the impossibility of hearing "authentic" unprocessed human emotion these days? (It's also cool that they then proceed to get Todd Edwards, famed for his vocal cut-up techniques, to do a totally straight untampered-with vocal on "Face to Face"). Re. the topic of
inauthenticity, I think it was Tim Finney at Skykicking who was riffing on Discovery being about "decadance". And there is something simultaneously witty and eerie about the way Daft Punk fold in all the AOR lite-metal/FM soft rock influences from the absolute null void of American radio rock (late Seventies/early Eighties, New Wave never really arrived), as if to point out dance culture's decline into similarly corporatized, anodyne edgelessness. Then again, maybe they just purely and non-ironically dig ELO, Frampton, Boston, Halen, et al..
Pick Hit: "Digital Love"