Human After All

Band: Daft Punk
Album: Human After All
Best song: “Robot Rock” is strong. The title track is nice. “Steam Machine” works.
Worst song: “Emotion” is decent, but not great.

Daft Punk’s popularity is largely built on the band’s imagery and live show. It’s fitting for a duo whose fanbase mostly traffics in X and glow sticks — am I dating myself with those references? Probably, right? — to fill its live show and imagery with striking robotics, light shows and costumery.

Indeed, the band’s videos are pretty amazing, as well. Enlisting directors like fellow Frenchman Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, the band uses strange costumes, odd imagery, representative actors — in the “Around the World” video, each costume represents an instrument — and sometimes animation, the look of the band is defined while remaining dynamic. Daft Punk, while ostensibly a band or a musical outfit, are true multimedia artists.

With that said, there’s something decidedly boring about Daft Punk. The music is wildly repetitive — in their defense, almost all dance music is repetitive — and the samples the band takes are sometimes cut from whole cloth. Certainly, the large hits from Discovery and Human After All (“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” sounds far too much like “Cola Bottle Baby” and “Robot Rock” has a lead line stolen straight from Breakwater’s “Release the Beast”) aren’t far from Puff Daddy material.

No question, I adore this album, largely because Daft Punk makes accessible the theme that I tend to love. The question of technology as a vehicle to humanity. As a electronic band, Daft Punk must reconcile this more than a rock band, and on Human After All, the French duo clearly struggles with this.

“Robot Rock,” clearly because of its source material, is a strong riff and a bombastic drum song. While not a dancer, it’s a quality track without delving into the question of hard rock as barrier to humanity. “Technologic” builds off the “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” formula of modified vocals over a building backdrop. Rushing through the claims, the song’s vocal track works as a pacing metaphor for modern life and commerce.

“The Prime Time of Your Life” — complete with banned video — is more of a slowburn, building into “Robot Rock.” The video’s abrasive skeleton imagery as a word against body image is troubling and overt. Indeed, that is often Daft Punk’s problem on Human After All. “Television Rules the Nation” and the title track, specifically, bludgeon one with the humanity/technology divide. Like Zappa’s Joe’s Garage, the record uses a sledgehammer when it could easily use a fly swatter.

Indeed, this was the the duo’s purpose. Daft Punk made the album to bring the feeling of alienation and paranoia to listeners and succeeded. As Thomas Bangalter told a magazine, “[The record is] not something intended to make you feel good.” It doesn’t, but that doesn’t make it bad. Just interesting.

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    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

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