I was gonna leave it alone. The beauty of having two weeks to think about each subject is that it gives me a chance to calm down, and re-assess things in a less emotional way. But then I heard that this weekend Daft Punk were about to score their very 1st UK No.1 single. And I had to intervene.
I have long held a real love-hate relationship with Daft Punk. They’ve released lots of songs that I’ve enjoyed, from their first two albums, but there’s always been something about them as people that rubbed me up the wrong way. When they first emerged, the fact that they didn’t want to do interviews was refreshing – don’t forget this was the era when every thought that ever occurred to Liam Gallagher (normally just the same two thoughts recurring) was plastered over every media outlet in the country, so it felt good to have a bit of mystery.
Problem was I felt it turned very quickly into a shtick, and by the time Discovery came round and the robot heads came out, my thoughts were confirmed. Style over substance has always been the biggest complaint about dance music, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with. The problem is when this is combined with taking yourself too seriously. When your music is heavily reliant on sampling (see more below), banning other people from sampling your music (as they did for the very first “As heard by Radio Soulwax” record) is a bit of a pisstake. And some of the photoshoots they’ve commissioned (see above) are hardly the work of a recluse.
Hiding in plain sight is the biggest con trick of the narcissistic: “Hey don’t talk to me, I’m incognito, even though EVERYONE KNOWS IT’S ME ”. It’s the same trick Damon Albarn tried to pull with Gorillaz when he told us : “I’m sick of interviews, so I’ll invent a cartoon band to do them all for me”. This lasted right up to the point when they had their 1st no.1 single, at which point Albarn was suddenly front and centre, ready to soak up all the acclaim.
That is but one of my issues with Daft Punk – their approach to sampling being another:
The Daft Punk School of Sampling
1. Take old funk/soul/disco tune that no one has heard of
2. Replace vocals with robot voice
3. Credit the sampled record but in really small letters on the back of the sleeve so no one notices
4. Accept undeserved plaudits.
I’m not saying they are the only artists following this model, but they have been the most successful at fooling people into thinking they’re geniuses, when in reality they’ve just put a robot donk on it. New single Get Lucky was another example of this. I was sure if I searched hard enough there’d be an old Chic B-side with exactly the same beat being sung by Donna Summer. This has yet to materialise, but the search continues.
Time for a confession. I quite like Get Lucky. It’s got that summertime vibe and easy swing, as well as a vocal that people can sing along to. It would be a good track 9 or 10, something to ease you into the end of an album. But, as a first single for nine years, I was kinda expecting more. Not necessarily a return to the halcyon house days, but something a bit meatier. The trouble is, they realised that when you have such a tight hold on your own “mystique”, and a multi-million dollar marketing budget, you don’t have to write great songs any more.
The chip-pan of hype had got so hot over the last 6 months; the drip, drip, dripping information about their new record; the list of ubercool collaborators; the advertising at hipster paradise festival Coachella; the 90-second song snippets; they knew they could throw any old scrap of potato in there and the pot will explode.
Example. I first heard Get Lucky on the same day that I discovered this song, Rain or Shine by Beat Assailant. Have a listen.
Now if I told you THAT was the new Daft Punk song, how exciting would that be? Still got that DP sound, but bringing a tight rapper with a great flow to ride against the music. Having heard this, Get Lucky just sounded flat. For the record, Beat Assailant is an American living in France. His album B is pretty good – you should check it out.
But wait….Rain or Shine was also a victory of advertising, as I found it on a car advert. How is that any different?
The main difference is this – advertising may have been the delivery method, but the music is what stood out. It took me at least 4 listens to work out which car was being advertised, in order to find out who wrote the song. Beat Assailant would not have been played on UK TV or Radio without that ad campaign. Daft Punk didn’t have to worry about that.
As of yesterday Get Lucky was the highest selling single in the UK this year. Obviously that doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but for a credible band to be able to compete with the pop muppets in the singles chart is still remarkable. But it all feels like a very hollow victory. I fear that as this is their most successful song, in 15 years time when people ask who Daft Punk were, this might be the song that comes to define them. Not Da Funk. Not Burnin’. Not even Harder,Better,Faster, Stronger.
It will be forgotten how truly revolutionary that first wave of French house was, alongside Air & Cassius – before 1997, if someone talked about French music I could only think of Joe le Taxi or dirty ol’ Serge. Or the guy who gave me my Christian name (but we don’t talk about him). The saddest part is I don’t think Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo or Thomas Bangalter really give a shit how they’ll be remembered in 15 years time. Right now they can just sit back and watch the acclaim roll in from all quarters. I might have misjudged them - They may have written the album of the year in Random Access Memories, and I could be here in 6 months time choking on my own words. But they don’t have to. Their ability to have a successful album is no longer reliant on their musical ability. Talk about Getting Lucky.
The Sounds of Now
Unfortunately due to last year’s review problems you weren’t able to find out how much I enjoyed Gaz Coombes’ solo album. The former Supergrass frontman delivered almost the perfect solo album – plenty of hints to former glories but with more than enough progression to justify not only it’s own existence, but the demise of the band. I would rank “Here come the Bombs” in the top three of post-britpop solo albums, alongside Jarvis’ Further Complications and Happiness in Magazines by Graham Coxon.
Gaz played a low key show at the Kazimier this week, and it was bloody brilliant. There was a sense of freedom often associated with those who’ve just stepped off the “Big Band” treadmill, but the most impressive element were the songs themselves. My personal favourites were Universal Cinema and Whore, which I have reproduced for your listening pleasure. Gaz mentioned in an interview that most of his album was written “beat first”, either on bass guitar or drums, and with Whore you can certainly tell. The cross-purpose rhythms really catch the ear, and Gaz still knows his way around a chorus. A potential single if not for the subject matter.