After the immediate success and undeniable artistry of their 1996 house debut Homework, French robo-duo Daft Punk‘s second album, Discovery, rings in some ways as a truer, more human exploration of dance music, and in others as a bit of an inside joke, the punch line of which the listener is never totally privy to.
It’s certainly a departure for the duo – more like disco, or even post-disco than house – and some fans of Daft Punk’s early work may feel swindled, but who cares? Discovery is a fantastic album in all its alternating brilliance and revelry, and it’s certainly the most crossover-ready album the dance pigeonhole has seen thus far.
In short, Discovery is not just a dance album. Instead, it’s a scattershot portrait of pop genius, packaged in the glossy analogue sheen of’ 70s and ’80s sensibilities and vocoder vocals pushed to their sonic limits. And while Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter may dress like robots – perhaps a commentary on the cold, computerised anonymity their medium demands – they are, in fact quite human, and Discovery is just the sort of album that could get anyone of the human persuasion to shake it on the dance floor.
Consider, for instance, the fantastic – if lyrically undemanding – album opener and single, One More Time. The tinny brass section recalls all your cheesiest teenage roller-rink longings. In fact, the disco ball is nearly audible as Romanthony huffs out the pedantically party-oriented lyrics, “One more time, we’re gonna celebrate. Oh, yeah. All right. Don’t stop the dancing.”
A think piece this is not, but when you’re sweating it out in the discotheque, do you really want ponderously pensive explorations of life’s more alluring mysteries? Of course not. You just want to “do it right-ah, tonight-ah,” and Daft Punk seem to know this all too well.
The album’s more endearing moments seem to be a bit front-loaded. Digital Love – which openly samples George Duke‘s I Love You More and features a blazing synth-guitar solo – comes across as something found in a time capsule from an alternate universe. It’s got all the analogue warmth of ’70s adult-contemporary in all its lameness and vest-and-bellbottom sheen, but the heavily processed vocal part is something different entirely. The lyrics here are slightly more thought out, and the sentiment is clear enough: “Last night, I had a dream about you. In this dream, I’m dancing right beside you.” Love is battle, but – as usual – dance is the weapon.
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger seems equally ready for the dance floor, or the gym, depending on where you like to do your sweating. In any environment, though, it’s nearly impossible to sit still through all the bouncing ’80s funkiness – by way of a sample of Edwin Birdsong‘s Cola Bottle Baby – and the constant robotic insistence that “work is never over.”
The album’s second half is scattered with more post-disco dance-alongs, all of which are fantastic, if not largely forgettable. That said, there’s not a moment in Discovery’s one-hour runtime that is uninspired or bland. Perhaps most notable is the devastatingly short-lived breathy synth slow-burner Nightvision, whose mood suits a moonlit romp on a sandy beach. Something About Us also presents a nice mid-tempo changeup, this time meandering into sex-fueled synth-funk territory. Here, the vocoder seems a bit out of place, but the lyrics are earnest enough that it all comes across as organic and true, despite its mix of styles.
Short Circuit bounds with laser shots and keyboard vibrato reminiscent of Thomas Dolby‘s She Blinded Me With Science. The album closer, Too Long, presents another vocal by Romanthony, this time naked and vocoder-free. The effect is somewhat jarring after all the robotic theatrics, but it’s also refreshingly soulful. As the song builds and drones on, you can’t help but believe Romanthony when he exclaims ad infinitum, “Do you need it? Hey, I need it too. Well, all right! Do you need it? It’s good for you.”
Good for you, indeed. Discovery takes all the cheesiness of its influences and spins them through heavy electronic filters and synthesised beats to create something entirely new in the world of dance music. To say that the album is flawless would be something of a misstep, but even when Discovery flounders, it never ceases to provide an intriguing and far-reaching sonic vision unmatched by anything that’s come before it.