I remember when the Tron Legacy score came out, many fans were upset because they were expecting a Daft Punk album and what they got was… a film score. I was happy because I had already been a fan of film scores long before I ever heard of Daft Punk and so I had a standard of comparison (John Williams, Hans Zimmer) to weigh the Tron Legacy score against. I think if fans already had a background in listening to film scores and were able to compare TRON: Legacy to other film scores, instead of comparing it to Daft Punk’s previous work, they would have enjoyed the album much more.
The Road to Prog Rock
With Random Access Memories, Daft Punk has headed in a direction that is new for them, but very old for the history of rock. I suspect some fans are going to be disappointed because they’re going to hear some stuff they’re really not prepared to hear. They are expecting a record that sounds like Zombie Nation produced by Giorgio Moroder but what they’re actually getting has turned out to sound more like Jeff Lynne produced by Alan Parsons.
This new record fully develops and realizes the suggestion of full blown ’70s and ’80s rock that Daft Punk first hinted at in “Digital Love” from 2001’s Discovery. It sounds like the Bee Gees had a baby together with Pink Floyd (which has actually happened before in the mashup scene!) I have long been a fan of progressive rock, and so for Daft Punk to go in this direction makes perfect sense to me. It feels like I’ve just put on another one of my favorite prog rock records.
Teasing out the influences
The Chic influence is obvious and can go without saying… But the progressive rock influences are more surprising and need to be teased out a little more. So to help you here is a list of 5 recommended albums to listen to that will help you understand where some of the more obscure influences on RAM have come from.
I Robot by Alan Parsons Project (1977)
This was the one record that Random Access Memories reminded me of the most, especially the opening instrumental track. Just listen to this one and the similarities should be obvious.
Time by Electric Light Orchestra (1981)
The opening to this could’ve fooled almost anyone into thinking it was a leaked track from Random Access Memories if anyone had tried that as a joke, because of the way it uses the vocoder and synthesizers. I first heard of Electric Light Orchestra because Daft Punk actually sampled “Evil Woman” in “Face to Face.” Since then, they have become one of my favorite bands and it helped set me on this path of collecting and appreciating progressive rock.
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)
Daft Punk actually cites this one as an influence, but it would’ve been on the list in any case even if they hadn’t. It’s the model for most prog rock albums that followed, if not all. It is the archetype of progressive rock albums and concept albums and the genre’s greatest achievement, not to mention one of the best selling albums of all time. Whenever your favorite band says they’re listening to Dark Side as inspiration for new material, you know they’re on the right track.
Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf (1977)
This album is what I immediately thought of on hearing the opening notes to “Give Life Back to Music.” That may just be me, because it’s not the sort of thing I could prove or even explain too well, but it’s just a feeling I had. They give you that same feeling of, “Buckle up, you’re in for a bumpy ride!”
Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep by Spock’s Beard (2013)
This one obviously isn’t a likely candidate to have been a direct influence on Daft Punk, since it’s brand new. But I’m including it to point out the fact that progressive rock is not dead. There are great artists and great masterpieces in this genre still being produced today. “Something Very Strange” by Spock’s Beard uses the vocoder and some of the same sort of instrumentation and feels relevant to me.