Daft Punk: Does good music need to be good?

In the New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones on Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories":
NewImageDaft Punk’s fourth studio album, “Random Access Memories,” is an attempt to make the kind of disco record that they sampled so heavily for “Discovery.” As such, it serves as a tribute to those who came before them and as a direct rebuke to much of what they’ve spawned. Only intermittently electronic in nature, and depending largely on live musicians, it is extremely ambitious, and as variable in quality as any popular album you will hear this year. Noodly jazz fusion instrumentals? Absolutely. Soggy poetry and kid choirs? Yes, please. Clichés that a B-list teen-pop writer would discard? Bring it on. The duo has become so good at making records that I replay parts of “Random Access Memories” repeatedly while simultaneously thinking it is some of the worst music I’ve ever heard. Daft Punk engages the sound and the surface of music so lovingly that all seventy-five loony minutes of “Random Access Memories” feel fantastic, even when you are hearing music you might never seek out. This record raises a radical question: Does good music need to be good?
"Back to Earth: Daft Punk's puzzling new album." (New Yorker)

Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (Amazon)


      1. Good for you.  Tastes good.  Good as in effective or well targeted.  “Good” can have a lot of meanings.   

          1. Technically good, as is musically proficient VS. subjectively good, as in; “I’d like to listen to this again of my own free will.”

            There are many many albums that are technically poorly executed and showcase  little musical proficiency on the artists’ part – that are somehow still so moving, so “good” that they’ve become cultural icons. The Sex Pistols, The Butthole Surfers, The Ramones the list goes on.

            And then there are songs that are technically amazing, that I don’t find myself listening to all that often: Philip Glass, John Frusciante, anything on the piano.

            Good vs good.

          2. Meg White is not a technically good drummer but holy shit are she and Jack White magic together, and somehow her poor, very child-like drumming WORKS and is GOOD, even though technically it’s not good.  And Jack White isn’t exactly a great singer, either, but somehow it works.  Just youtube their cover of Jolene.

  1. Focusing on the question, no, it doesn’t need to be “good” to be good. Completely ignoring the fact that your perception is your own and completely subjective, there are plenty of talent-less, based, arrogant “musicians/performers” that make millions of dollars on a large consumer base with bad tastes. 

    Was it just shocking to you because it was a Daft Punk release? Because if we’re being out and open about the duo’s quality over time, I feel it was slightly downhill after Homework with the Tron Legacy soundtrack being more of a speedbump. To each their own. 

      1. ~I am sure i was the first to “discover” this here is the 2001 Space Odyssey clip. mute video audio and start both at the same time.

  2. “I replay parts of “Random Access Memories” repeatedly while simultaneously thinking it is some of the worst music I’ve ever heard.”

    I thought the exact same thing. Such an odd album – I don’t even know if I have an actual opinion on it.

  3. I listened to the album yesterday coincidentally and i didn’t particularly care for it. It has brief moments of goodness marred by unoriginal, uninspired tunes that do nothing for me. I found myself “enjoying” the music when i was distracted doing other tasks, so i guess its good background noise. But when actively listening to it i kept asking myself “Would i enjoy this album, or any of the songs if i knew this wasn’t Daft Punk?”, and the answer is maybe (leaning toward no).

    Some songs are enjoyable, some only partly so. But as an album i think its disappointing… however i do feel torn, while i didn’t enjoy it as much as i thought i would i do commend Daft Punk for trying something entirely different rather than retreading and rehashing the sound that they are known for. Too bad they weren’t more successful. I often feel that the album might’ve been better had more of the songs been more danceable (for a lack of a better word).

    1. I know what you mean. The thing it reminded me of most was actually the background menu/car room music from the Gran Tourismo series.  

  4. He works for The New Yorker.  It’s The New Yorker ‘style’ to say in 10,000 words what you can say in one, namely, that this music is crap.  

    1. Why does anyone bother with words at all? We could just communicate by crude hand gestures.

  5. Why is cornball music automatically terrible?

    And why would this album be considered bad on any measure?  Even if it’s not super-great, I don’t think an album created by clearly talented, motivated, and inspired musicians is ever going to be bad.  And I’m not even really a fan.

      1. O hai, you’re back again…. do I need to remind you again that most critics rate it well?

        Oh that’s right you don’t care about the opinions of experts. Since user votes across most sites reflect the same result as critic reviews I’d say your opinion is in the minority.

        Have a nice day.

        1. I don’t really care about experts either, but I also think @albill:disqus  things his personal taste rules all.

      2. When you say “you” do you mean “Al Billings and some other people”?  Because I listened to it the other day while working on a project with some friends and I didn’t think it was half-bad.  I mean it wasn’t great, but I didn’t want it to stop and if someone else played it again I’d be perfectly fine with it, even if I personally wouldn’t choose it.

        In other words, taste is fucking subjective. This is a very simple concept.

          1. Since the word can be abused to fit colloquial speech it probably does bear explanation.

            you = the specific person who is being replied to
            you = the average person

            You (Al Billings) used both forms in the one short comment so I can see how marilove needed clarification.

            The vitriol isn’t necessary but neither was you sharing your opinion on the album. Twice.

          2. I’m hardly the only one leaving a comment here disliking your new favorite album.

            But you are the only one who seems butthurt that people like it. Deal with it.

            You might not be the only one but, as has been the point of my entire commentary, you are a tiny tiny minority being very very loud.

      3. Everyone hated Discovery when it came out because it was completely different than Homework (now its cult adored), everyone hated Human After All (well for obvious reasons) because it wasn’t like Discovery. Now a lot of people dislike Random Access Memories because it apparently doesn’t “sound like Daft Punk” or it’s not their style.

        Their style changes radically with each album and each album is completely different than the one that preceded it. Regardless, RAM is enjoying very positive critical reviews.

  6. They are essentially saying that taste is subjective.  But in that pretentious, circular, faux-philosophical way that I find rather irritating.

    You could really replace “music” with just about anything and it would still be just as meaningless.

    1. Yeah, and I think they miss the point. The album is either good in your eyes or it isn’t. This isn’t some ironic thing that they purposefully made a cornball disco era album. They genuinely liked the music that helped inspire this and in my opinion made a good album. The author of this article seems more concerned with the image the album is trying to portray than the music itself.

      1. Your last sentence is spot-on.  And I get the feeling Daft Punk doesn’t care.  Their history seems to prove that — and this is coming from someone very neutral about the band in general.

  7. Album is awesome.  People are missing the fact that it is to be heard as a three act musical (which I expect their are working on).  Daft Punk have always done things their way and this is the epitome of that.  Punk is as Punk does I guess.

      1.  Nope.  Something they have tried to do before (in other formats, anime, shorts. etc) but they have been seen talking with Scorsese multiple time over the last 3 months (sources from the inductry and other well known blogs/sites)

  8. This is just one part of a great album, which will be a live album, made sometime after their next album comes out, and which will splice together tracks from this and the next into mind-bending awesomesauce.
    Source: Alive 2007

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever read a music review that was of any use to me. Even a positive review of music I like just leaves me thinking “but that’s not anything like what I hear”.
      Reviews are often not that helpful, but reviews of music just seem to be utterly pointless to me.
      Maybe that’s just me, whatever Get Lucky is a pretty great pop song, which is handy, because I imagine I’ll end up hearing it a lot this summer.

  9.  They only came with the double vinyl pre-order.  But yeah, a lot of people are going to be “derped” by this album’s flow.

  10. As a side thought…I’ve heard music, watched movies, and read books that just rubbed me the wrong way when I first experienced them.   Those same experiences grew on me until I absolutely loved them if I gave them a chance.  This assumes there’s something deep about DP’s new album.  Mine’s still in the mail LOL.

    1. I was thinking the same.  Radiohead’s Ok Computer was very much like that. And then I fell in love.

    2.  This is where I sit on all of the DP albums. (Except Tron, I never grew to like that one) When the first came out I almost hated it – and then it grew on my like a Stockholm-syndrome-virus. The second I decried as derivative. They were a one-horse-pony… and then the trick got me and I found myself listening to it lots.

      Maybe it shall be this was here too. So far though, I dislike speaking and skits in my music and nothing on this album has clicked for me so far.

    1. Nancy Sinatra is a great example of someone who has a paucity of musical talent, but is still completely entertaining.

  11. An entire album based around Cher’s dreadful autotune classic, “I believe”. So that’s what the future looks like.

  12. Music is not just notes and tones and rhythms, all those things combined impart some cultural significance to a sound.  If you hear pedal-steel guitar, you think “American country and western” before you notice the notes and melodies being played.  Plus culture is always changing.  What was cool and new one decade is corny and cliched years later, so concepts of “good” and “bad” in music are subject to change (but matters of taste always are– records I loved as a kid I hear now and just roll my eyes. )

    There is a thriving market of obscure music from decades ago being reissued, albums that didn’t impress anyone in 1971 are being remastered and reassessed and appreciated today.  Were those records “bad” back then but “good” now?  Sometimes I find myself asking “do I really like this song, or just THINK I like it?”  Is there a difference?

  13. Yes, good music needs to be good. If you find yourself NOT liking a bit of music and then saying, “but wait, it’s Daft Punk. I must be wrong,” then you aren’t being true to your tastes. Daft Punk aren’t infallible. 

  14. I listened to it from start to finish and found that it was fairly unremarkable, but I also enjoyed several parts immensely because they brought back some of 70s pre-Disco funk feel, when I was a teenager. It is a long piece of work, however, that seems to lack excitement. To me. In my opinion.

  15. regarding the new daft punk album, i gave it a shot this morning and didn’t really care for it. i’ve been a fan of theirs for years but like so many musical groups i love that have released stuff this year…i don’t like it.
    yeh, i’m looking at you tmbg. what happened?

  16. I really like their older stuff and i’m enjoying RAM so far. It’s worth noting that people who don’t dig the long disco tracks from Chic’s “Risqué” neither more commercially acclaimed Steely Dan stuff will have serious issues with this record.

  17. I found myself discussing this with a co-worker today. In a way, this album is the least innovative album they’ve ever done, but it also so happens to be extremely satisfying and impressive. The simplistic nature of each song, with its obvious hooks and catchy, almost paint-by-numbers disco motivates the “soul” as much as their more heady stash in ‘Discovery.’ I think, ultimately, this album is a practice in defying the concept that successive albums must reach beyond the preceding affair. And yet, it manages to do just that.

    They’re the living enigma they like to portray themselves as; even their assumed j’en sais quoi is validated by RAM. I look at it like this: In an era where the new thing must be so completely different and modern (whatever that interpretation means), and anything from but a year or two ago is so ancient history that we should probably forget about it, we find ourselves hard-pressed in finding that timeless something. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We claim anything super modern (like Kitty Pryde, for example, and her disaffected, monotonous “rapping” as currently palatable) is so dope, only to be washed away by the next fad. But really, that happens all the time in music, no matter the era. The few that manage to stick out always seem to have one thing in common: simplicity. Minimal efforts to update classic styles always break through. The Strokes are a good example of that. Complicated indie rock is great, but once someone plays three chords in an obvious progression with a wonderfully naive prose, we get the next big thing no one will forget. Daft Punk will achieve that.

    Plus, in a mired sea of brostep and other (personal opinion alert) horrible EDM, RAM unleashes a burst of fresh air that we didn’t know we needed. I love this album.

  18. A friend who’s opinion I generally respect described the album as “The J.J. Abrams version of ELO.”   Good enough for me.  I hope I enjoy it!  

  19. At first I thught this was a postmodern review of and old school disco record in modern times, But its really the new yorker trying to say it didnt like the album while still trying to be cool by understanding then rejecting what it doesnt like because of “reasons”.  Yet all too aware that some people liked it and still trying to pander to them. 
    Its like a music review by a po-mo hipster politician.

  20. This is Daft Punk’s “Kid A” moment. When Radiohead released Kid A a lot of dedicated Radiohead fans were not impressed and others were just confused. They lost a few fans who liked the classic rock band setup and sound which dominated their music up to Kid A, but in the end that switch is was what kept them relevant and allowed them to branch off into making music that, without Radiohead, I don’t think could have been written by anyone else.

    At this point in their career Daft Punk are obviously concentrating on making music that they enjoy without any care for what people want or expect. They’re working with artists who they respect and inspire them because they can. To assume they couldn’t have written another album of club bangers is just plain silly. They wrote those before and they could write them again if they wanted to.

    The reviewer’s inclusion of this line: “Only intermittently electronic in nature” makes me really wonder if he listened to more than the intro of each track and if he’s got any proper understanding of music production whatsoever.

  21. Daft Punk has succeeded in perfectly replicating the sound of a sh*tty late ’70s/early ’80s disco album.  Which is impressive, I guess, but that doesn’t make it any good.  Oh, and Sasha Frere-Jones is a blowhard with bad taste.

  22. It’s OK.  But one cover of “Get Lucky” has more than two and a half million views because it is *so* much better than the original.  Once heard… you can’t hear the Daft Punk version in the same way.  It has so much life and energy.  George Barnett plays all the instruments, did all the filming and production himself in one day – I think I read somewhere that DP spent a million on their recording of the album….    http://youtu.be/s6NDY8FSr9M

  23. You call it Disco. And you slam it, time and again, calling the album “bad music.” But what do you listen to that is so eloquently composed, so symphonically produced, so unparalleled and perfect for all listeners that anything but? Just crap.

    Music touches the soul. And just as each soul is a different shade, so is the music that touches it. This album is magnificent. I’m sure you’d refer to ‘Contact’ as Noise with an unweildy moog note. But I digress.

    Not only does this article slander an incredible sound, an original sound, a combination of disco, 80’s rock, even elements of hip hop, but a torch in the darkness that is music exploration, of holding to your roots even after the music scene has far outpaced. When they released their futuristic beats in the decades past, nobody called the music “bad.”

    If the article isn’t bad enough, the comments above are far less founded. “A plague! On both your houses!”

  24. Art can be interesting for many different reasons. It can move our hearts, demonstrate complex emotions, explore new aesthetic concepts or tell a story. Sometimes worthy art simply forces us to ask questions.

    It’s good if it fulfills an aesthetic function with a listener. As any fan of folk musician Jandek can tell you, music doesn’t have to be good to be good.

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