Music Review: Daft Punk's Alive 2007

by Stephen Tringali

I’m going to be totally honest upfront: I’ve never really enjoyed Daft Punk’s house music. It always sounded as though it were the complement to other forms of recreation, not a recreation all by itself. Take your pick as to what that complementary recreation might be. Daft Punk’s music seems like it might sound best if listened to while driving, dancing, tripping on acid at EuroDisney, or watching music videos. (House music, by the way for the uninitiated, is a form of electronic dance music descended directly from disco, not to be confused with electronica, which has similar elements but arose from the rave scene of the 1990s.)

Listen to Daft Punk without secondary stimulation and you may discover a world of hurt. I know I did while listening to their first two studio albums, Homework and Discovery. A few tracks — such as “Aerodynamic” and “Hard, Better, Faster, Stronger” — mine the repetitive beats, droning bass lines, and cut-and-paste vocals to good effect. But much of their other material sounds like a marginally retooled approach to an old and monotonous concept.

Dance music, particularly disco, has frequently been saddled with this criticism. It’s a valid point. But just as it’s difficult to comprehend labeling an entire genre as uninspiring, it’s difficult to imagine why house groups like Daft Punk sound so terribly insular when their market is one of the most public venues for playing previously recorded music: the dance club.

This is perhaps why Daft Punk’s latest release, a live album entitled Alive 2007 is the best thing they’ve ever released. Don’t take that compliment to mean that Alive 2007 (released Nov. 20, 2007 internationally by EMI and Virgin, and Dec. 4 in North America) is one of the best releases of the year. It just means that listening to Daft Punk is no longer painful. The group is afforded the chance to let their music stretch, to improvise on their otherwise monotonous dance formulas, and to bleed tracks into one another like an excellent dance hall DJ. The result makes more sense than the structure a studio album provides: Daft Punk may now compose their songs not as a series of tracks on an album but as a long-form entertainment enjoyed best when the masses are breathing down your neck.

“Robot Rock” grinds the album to an initial slow start but soon explodes into pounding bass and pulsing synthesizers. Subsequent songs are creatively mashed together. The “One More Time / Aerodynamic” mix-up, for example, blends the church bells and the guitar-emulating synthesizers of the latter with the fuzzy, electronic melody of the former.

The live album, however, doesn’t exactly redeem Daft Punk of their previous sins. (Daft Punk is made up of two French disc jockey/musicians: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter.) The point still remains that they are a monotonous house group with little but a live concert experience to tout as interesting merchandise. And that’s only worth the $15 it costs to buy this album, not the $112.16 it costs to see them live in Australia next week (airfare, meals, and hotel, not included).

(Photo of Daft Punk playing a show in Los Angeles earlier this year by BitBoy of Los Angeles via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. Daft Punk resumes their world tour with a concert in Kobe, Japan, Dec. 6. To see a live video of Daft Punk performing "Around the World / Harder Better Faster Stronger" please check below.)

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Lindsay said...

If it sounds like an "old concept", maybe that's because of the innumerable faceless dance bands of recent (ironic hipster) fame that have made their careers off of aping what Homework did ten years ago. Even if you think it's a boring record (which it's not), I think you can still acknowledge the tremendous influence it's had on music in the past ten years.

And as far as hating on Discovery, I don't even understand that. Clearly you hate fun.


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