When Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo followed up 2005’s ‘Human After All’ after an agonising eight-year wait, the world was understandably expecting great things. From the moment that ‘Get Lucky’ was teased via two 15-second ads on a 2013 episode of Saturday Night Live, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a conventional Daft Punk record – if such a thing ever even existed.
Replete with appearances from the likes of Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams, Panda Bear and Paul Williams as well as long-time collaborator Todd Edwards, ‘Random Access Memories’ promised the earth. Gone was the reliance on electronics in favour of warmer, more organic sounds and textures; this was to be their only studio album and in terms of its rich production and cast of guest collaborators, it still sounds unlike anything else by Daft Punk, or indeed any other artist, even a decade later.
But what is there to say about ‘Random Access Memories’ in 2023 that hasn’t been said already? Get Lucky remains a dance floor staple – although ardent Daft Punk fans will tell you that it’s far from their finest work. Giorgio Moroder’s monologue on ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ has become beloved meme fodder.
Touch, meanwhile, went on to become the partial soundtrack to the duo’s farewell – closing out the final moments of 2021’s ‘Epilogue’, which saw them casting aside the robot avatars for good.
And now, two years later, the duo’s spirit lives on in the form of 35 minutes of unreleased demos, sketches and outtakes that cast new light on the RAM recording sessions, released alongside this 10th anniversary reissue. It doesn’t quite make up for the pain of knowing that the robots have since dissipated into the stratosphere, but it goes a long way towards healing those wounds and, in many ways, it’s a fitting conclusion to the Daft Punk story.
Many of these outtakes nod towards the duo’s orchestral ambitions, which Bangalter notably went on to realise in full earlier this year with the release of ‘Mythologies’, his first solo release since the group’s dissolution. Elsewhere, some tracks bear more in common with the duo’s soundtrack work, which they memorably showcased via 2010’s ‘Tron: Legacy’ soundtrack. It may have split the crowd at the time, but it has gone on prove quietly influential.
In particular, ‘Horizon’ and its accompanying ‘Ouverture’ allude to the duo’s cinematic ambitions, beginning with a gorgeous choral arrangement that unfolds into a sweeping orchestral instrumental. It’s a stark reminder of just how disparate an evolution ‘RAM’ felt at the time and how Bangalter and de Homem-Christo were often at their best when at their most introspective.
Other tracks cast a light on the evolution of familiar album tracks. Album opener ‘Give Life Back To Music’ is showcased as ‘GLBTM’, a funky blend of orchestral instrumentation and piano that gradually unfolds into a full-blown Chic-esque jam that runs nearly two minutes longer than the album cut and is all the better for it. ‘GL’ provides a thirty second-long Wurlitzer-esque alternate take of ‘Get Lucky’, while ‘LYTD’ sees the Pharrell-fronted ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ re-worked to incorporate the duo’s trademark robot vocals with alternate lyrics.
The real treasures are to be found away from the tracks we already know, however. Contemplative slow jam ‘Infinity Repeating’ sees the robots re-teaming with Julian Casablancas, while Tron: Legacy’s influence looms large over ‘Prime’, a stirring instrumental demo that traverses pulsating synths, strings and disco beats over the course of over four and a half minutes that feel like a fascinating scrapbook of musical ideas.
‘The Writing of Fragments of Time‘ takes a peek even further behind the curtain, granting the listener a documentary-style snapshot of the studio sessions. Spoken discussions and sung improvisations between Thomas Bangalter and Todd Edwards play out over ‘Fragments of Time’s instrumental as they construct the song’s lyrics and melody. It isn’t exactly a floor-filler, but there’s something undeniably captivating about hearing such a notoriously reclusive group’s creative process laid bare.
Finally, an alternate version of ‘Touch’ breaks down constituent elements of the Paul Williams-fronted track, omitting the vocal in favour of a standalone choral rendition of the refrain, “Hold on, if love is the answer you’re home,” while retaining whirling synths and sweeping orchestral strings. If it feels like something of a swansong, that’s because it’s the same edit that accompanied ‘Epilogue’, cutting out just as abruptly as it does in said video. It’s just as moving here, even without the visuals.
For a selection of demos and offcuts, this feels like a moving epitaph for a musical force that kept us guessing for close to three decades. This isn’t the Daft Punk most of us know and love. It’s a scrappy, experimental iteration of the duo, but that’s what makes it all the more compelling. The idea that we may never hear or see their like again is still hard to swallow, but if the robots are now at peace with the idea of us hearing their human side, we should all be grateful.
Daft Punk are dead. Long live Daft Punk.
Words: Paul Weedon // @Twotafkap