DAFT PUNK Homework (Virgin)
Week twelve of 1997, according to my diary, and, after much column inches extolling the virtues of the new Trans Am album in the last issue, heres the second contender for the album of the year vase, and again its a (mostly) instrumental beastie. Daft Punk are a French duo consisting of one Thomas Bangalter and one Guy-Manuel de Homen Christo, the masterminds behind recent top pop hit "Da Funk", surely the finest example of analogue synth abuse since Josh Winks seminal "Higher State Of Conciousness".
Happily, unlike the Winxster, Daft Punk have chosen to stick with what they do best for "Homework", that all-important debut album. Which, in their case means beats that could wake Beethoven and more squidgy noises than the episode of Monty Pythons Flying Circus that had the blancmange from outer space in it. (And, note this well, no poetry). Highlights? Well, all of it, basically, but special mentions are deserved for the space surf music of "Fresh", the planet straddling groove of "Around The World", the evil acid overload of "Rollin & Scratchin", and "Da Funk", surely a "Stayin Alive" for the next millennium. And "Teachers" has to be the only song that will ever be written that namedrops both Brian Wilson and sonic terrorist/DJ Jeff Mills. The packagings dead gorgeous as well, especially the spot-the-influence gatefold sleeve photo (sort of a "Sgt Pepper" of 70s kitsch, all cookies, Kiss tour posters, Ronco compilations and Andy Gibb pencil pots) and the mock-Philips record labels (no doubt a product of too much Serge Gainsbourg at an early age).
My one tiny, insignificant gripe is that 75 minutes of Daft Punks very singular muse is perhaps pushing it at one sitting, when an hours worth wouldve been just right. And the cynical would point out that the effect of listening to "Homework" from start to finish is not dissimilar to that obtained by repeatedly playing the "Da Funk" 12" whilst one of yer mates is testing what all the different filters on his sampler sound like. (I speak from experience). But just for once Im not going to be cynical: "Homework" is a fabulous, cherishable album, whose motives are best summed up in an entirely irony-free stylee by the Brian Wilson sleeve quote: "...I wanted to write joyful music that made other people feel good. Music that helps and heals, because I believe that music is Gods voice."
DAFT PUNK D.A.F.T. A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen And Tomatoes (Virgin)
At last, after legions of mediocre transfers of VHS equivalents, somebody assembles a music DVD that exploits the potential of the medium and does things that would be impossible to emulate on tape. The somebody in question is the French dance duo Daft Punk, responsible for the acid-scorched frenzy of the 1997 album "Homework", a selection of promo videos from which form the core of this disc.
But, as the sleeve blurb is proud to point out, "it's more than just a music video!". You can watch the clips with their original soundtracks, remixes by luminaries such as Armand Van Helden, Ian Pooley, Roger Sanchez and Masters At Work, directors' commentaries from the brains behind the visuals (including one from the normally reticent Spike Jonze, director of the Beastie Boys' seminal "Sabotage" promo and soon to be fantastically famous when his first film, "Being John Malkovich", gets released here) and numerous other goodies. On side B (yes, it's one of those pesky flipper discs, but on a product as media savvy as this I'm prepared to believe that it's a necessity borne of the vast amounts of information crammed on here, rather than cheapskate penny-pinching on the part of the manufacturer) you're treated to a live performance of "Rollin' & Scratchin'", which you can view in its original form or by flipping between eight different camera angles. (The sleeve says nine, but one is reserved for a screen giving you an overview of all the available options.) The proficiency with which you can mix images is limited by how adeptly your DVD player can flip between different angles, and you'd have to be blessed with an excess of leisure time to want to play all eight different views in their entirety, but the effort expended is appreciated nevertheless.
All this technological wonderment would be worth little if the quality of the videos themselves didn't make the grade, but happily they're universally excellent. Spike Jonze manages to conjure up an affecting portrait of urban isolation in the unlikely form of a boy with a dog's head and a leg in plaster wandering around New York to the accompaniment of DP's "Da Funk" blaring from his ghetto blaster. Roman Coppola somehow stitches such diverse elements as cops breaking up a warehouse party, stock footage of tomato harvesting and an authentic Italian recipe for spaghetti sauce on "Revolution 909". Daft Punk's own directing effort, "Fresh", places Charles the dogboy in what has to be a homage to Fellini's "La Dolce Vita". And even the most conventional of the promos, Michel Gondry's heavily choreographed "All Around The World", is examined and explained in minute detail in a lengthy lecture given by the director. Even the interactive menus are immaculate, being based on the lustrous cover art of the "Homework" album. And it almost goes without saying that sound and picture quality are almost universally excellent - better, in fact, than many of the 'proper' DVD films that have come my way recently. The cherry on the cake is that this disc is even free of region coding, so it'll play on any PAL-happy DVD equipment anywhere in the world. Great music, witty and inventive visuals and toys and trickery aplenty, for the DVD-buying Daft Punk fan this disc practically recommends itself.DAFT PUNK Discovery (Virgin)
The faithful have waited a long time for the follow-up to "Homework", possibly one of the most sumptuous dance albums of the last decade, 75 minutes wriggling with glorious analogue synth abuse and industrial-grade beats. Since then we've had the lukewarm comfort of "D.A.F.T. A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes", still one of the most inventive music DVDs it's possible to wrap your sensory organs around, and Thomas Bangalter moonlighting as Stardust, purveyors of the gloriously cheesy disco revivalist single "Music Sounds Better With You". But in the meantime French disko has also gone supernova, with Air albums becoming the coffee table accessory of choice, Cassius diluting the Daft Punk sound with some success and Madonna hauling in Mirwais to assist with the production of her last album. The times they are a-changin', indeed.
Pausing only to note how the album's title has been lifted from the Electric Light Orchestra back catalogue, consider those first five letters, especially in light of the fact that Bangalter's father was responsible for Ottawan's "D.I.S.C.O". Because "Discovery" is undoubtedly a disco album, the sound of Studio 54 filtered through 21st century trickery. The aroma of frying circuitry that hot-wired "Homework" is almost undetectable here: instead "Discovery" is all invitation-only (the packaging even includes a membership card that promises access to all manner of wonderment on the band's website), velvet rope and door policies. And, believe it or not, there are songs too, some voiced by house hero Romanthony, some by the band themselves, the latter inevitably mangled by all kinds of processing befitting their current robotic aesthetic. Heck, there's even a Barry Manilow sample on here, which suggests that the Punk are working to an altogether different kind of blueprint.
But for me "Discovery" is at its best during the instrumental remissions: I've never really been able to balance the essential hedonistic demands of dance music with the empty banalities that usually pass for lyrics in the genre, and examples such as "It's been much too long/I feel it coming on/The feeling is in my bones" from the aptly titled "Too Long" don't exactly cleave with tradition. On the upside, "Aerodynamic" is astonishing, dropping poodle-metal guitar breaks into a too-brief hands-in-the-air house stormer; "Nightvision" smooches like 10CC's "I'm Not In Love" and "Veridis Quo" brings chamber music to the dancefloor only to discover that the two get along rather well.
However, these moments of glorious madness seem to be on the outer fringes of the current Daft Punk plot. What they really want you to do is party like it's 1979, which makes "Discovery" anything but a formulaic retread of its glorious predecessor, but, admirable achievement though it may be, it has me sort of hankering for the territory they used to call their own.DAFT PUNK Alive 1997 (Virgin)
Another crabwalking career move by the French duo, as the title slyly suggests this album is a recording of the Daft Punk live experience circa 1997, taking the form of 45 minutes from their Birmingham show in November of that year. Swathed in bootleg chic, the packaging carries no track titles or even traditional niceties such as an inner sleeve. "Alive 1997" is all about the music, and nothing but.
Conveniently, then, the music on here is very good. Conceptually sited somewhere between the crowd-baiting, euphoria-building progressions of a DJ set and the improvisatory nature of a jazz gig, fragments of familiar Daft Punk tunes appear for seconds at a time before being twisted out of shape and into new, darker dimensions. The beats are punishing, the acid is satisfyingly squelchy and squidgy and the acrid aroma of overheated electronics hangs heavily in the air. Audience reaction is distant but detectable all the same, to the extent where it's difficult to discern whether some of the rhythmic whistling and clapping is actually emanating from the PA or the floor. Whichever, "Alive 1997" remains a baffling but near-brilliant experience that rinses away the much of the cloying, sugary aftertaste of this year's slightly over-friendly "Discovery" studio work.