The first installment of this feature, Daft Punkâ€™s third album Human After All, has a reputation as the third wheel among the Parisian duoâ€™s studio albums. The team of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo had up to that point produced two stunning albums, 1997â€™s Homework, and 2001â€™s Discovery. When discussing Human After All, itâ€™s easy to forget how polarized fans felt upon the release of Discovery as well. Fans accustomed to the filter-heavy French House of their debut were taken aback by the sophomore albumâ€™s embrace of cheesy 80â€™s synth-pop. In retrospect, thatâ€™s pretty small potatoes when compared to the abrupt change of tone of the duoâ€™s next release.
After a four-year break between albums, the duo unleashed Human After All to a varied response, some positive, though most were mixed to negative. In a positive review, Mojo described the album as â€śtough and unforgivingâ€ť as well as â€śpure pop plastique.â€ť Rolling Stone had a more mixed response, stating that the duo had become â€śvictim of their own animatronic satire.â€ť Finally, the most negative critics, like the Village Voice, thought the album sounded â€śflat, barely inflectedâ€ť and â€śsitting there like a vending machine waiting patiently for your quarters.â€ť After seven years, where does the album stand? What are its merits, if any? Does it live up to, or possibly exceed, the more positive reactions it garnered?
Returning to the Daft Punk discography this summer, it is apparent from the start that Human After All is very different than its predecessors. The record was supposedly recorded in a few weeks, as opposed to the usual multi-year production schedules for previous releases. This gives the album a rough, off the cuff feel, and it shows when listening. The opening title track offers a tougher, D.I.Y. alternative to previous singles. The pristine pop of â€śOne More Timeâ€ť is gone, and in its place are choppy, vocodered vocals, fuzzed-out guitars, and synthesized drum beats. This combo sounds, on paper at least, like what fans have come to expect from the duo, but on this album familiar tricks are eschewed in favor of one thing: repetition, ad nauseam. The first thing one notices when listening to Human After All is how each song essentially repeats the main riff over and over, almost to the point where it feel like itâ€™s being drilled into your brain. The best example is the first single â€śRobot Rock.â€ť What should have been a triumphant return for the duo instead falls prey to the diminishing returns of its repetitive nature. All the right elements are there, but they are not put to good use. Instead of expanding on the riff lifted from Breakwaterâ€™s â€śRelease the Beast,â€ť the song prefers to repeat said riff, adding the robo-tinged titular phrase over the whole thing in what amounts to an interesting, though disappointing, single. While some of the tunes do have solid song structures (the title track, â€śTechnologic,â€ť â€śThe Brainwasherâ€ť), everything else just kind of plods along.
Itâ€™s interesting that as their next project the duo embarked on the Alive 2007 tour. This outing gave Daft Punk the chance to incorporate all of their work into an exhilarating live show that sounds like a fantastic greatest hits mixtape. They included a lot of material from Human After All, and it all comes across as a more complete experience in this context. This begs the question of why they bothered to release the songs in their original forms, when they seemed destined to be remade?
The liner notes of an international version of the album include a quote from the group stating, “We believe that Human After All speaks for itself.” Clearly they knew what they were doing, and perhaps the music was a result of strict guidelines they gave themselves. Maybe they agreed that whatever came out of their brief recording sessions would be the album, with minimal post-production work. All of this is pure speculation, since the duo is notoriously tight-lipped about their work, although it is admirable that Bangalter and De Homem-Christo stand by their work. After the Alive 2007 live album showed that the duo hadnâ€™t lost their touch, itâ€™s easy to dismiss this album as a misstep. I look at it more as a blueprint, a new direction for the band, with a live context eventually expanding on the ideas of the album. Every experience provides something we can learn about ourselves, and perhaps Daft Punk needed this album to properly move forward with their music. I wonâ€™t say that Human After All is either a complete failure or a hidden gem, but this is an album where the hits are bogged down by far too many misses.
This feature takes a look at overlooked and under appreciated albums in an artist’s discography, as well as examining under appreciated artists. I will see how these albums and artists hold up over time. This might be a once in a while feature, but Iâ€™ll try to keep it going as long as I can. If there are any suggestions for a future post, feel free to send it my way!