“I know this one,” says Junior. “I’ve heard it on Kiss.” Kiss is a massive influence in my house. Any time I’m anywhere near the radio I switch it to Radio 2 of course, but the four women I live with are Kiss-mad. I like to insult the hapless mixing on Kisstory. And the glaring fact they only have about four records.
Everyone’s singing ‘I Feel It Coming’, one of the few Abel Tesfaye songs I can actually play in earshot of the kids without going mad on the volume dial. Pity really. I can definitely do without the casual (and, regularly, proactive) misogyny, but, in texture, I rarely find him less than brilliant, a sonic aesthete with a fabulous voice.
Junior identifies Daft Punk. Wipe three or four (or five) songs from Random Access Memories and add this, and you’ll have an album as good as I claimed it was in a giddy first-listen NME blog. I won’t dig that out now.
Junior reckons she’s heard this 30 times. Generously, she still likes it. Junior 2 sings along as she plays a game on her multimedia camera thing and Junior 3 joins in too, dancing and raising her eyebrows on the high notes. As for me, I think I can just post the original draft of my Track of the Year piece for NME, weaving a cunning web of deceit that makes this entry look chunky rather than lazy:
On 12 July 1979, Chicago’s Comiskey Park hosted its very own disco inferno. Prompted by shock jock Steve Dahl, thousands of baseball fans brought disco records to a game between Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers that would climax with a bonfire of this abominable vinyl. The prank did terrible damage to the pitch of course, but it also cemented a notion of disco as the enemy of rock, even tracing an unwanted line in the sand between white and black pop music, as hundreds of twerps tried to consign it to the incinerator of history.
But, like the legend of the phoenix, something was stirring in the ashes. The next decade would see disco cede to hip-hop, then electro, Detroit techno and the rebirth of soul as the salient expression of black culture, but you can’t keep a good rhythm down. And Nile Rodgers, the king of Studio 54, never really went away.
It was Rodgers who first alerted us to ‘Get Lucky’, airily announcing he was working with Daft Punk and then sitting back and watching the internet explode. Chic meets Daft Punk? Have you ever imagined something so ineffably right? Helmets on billboards and teased seconds of the track in a Saturday Night Live ad break were enough to get juices flowing, but it was the sudden arrival of images on the Coachella screens that beckoned meltdown. Suddenly we had confirmation that Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Pharrell Williams and Rodgers were all united over the same clipped riff, decades of perfect dance music and R&B distilled into one luscious brew. And when the real deal supplanted all those loops and fake tracks that had swamped YouTube and Soundcloud, the excitement could have powered cities. No one was listening to anything else.
Why would you? This was a liquid groove, a silky vocal – punctuated by the sort of Jacko hiccups Benjamin Diamond had attempted on an earlier Bangalter production, Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ – robotic breakdowns, cut-glass guitar and a randy hook that insinuated itself into every cell of the brain. Disco was reborn and remembering its primary function – making people dance, making people happy. Burn, baby, burn.
I think you can imagine how much of this I played. “Uh huh honey,” parrot Juniors 1 and 2 because that’s about all they heard – that, and a bit of Charlie Wilson. Anyway, they like “Uh huh honey”.
This cut-and-shut brainstorm proves the adaptability of the Yeezus template – Noise plus lunacy doesn’t necessarily equal aggression. Kanye West has found a way to engage with every notion, sonic or lyrical, that pours out of his twisted cranium, making an album that’s stupendously exciting whether he’s belting out nonsense over Daft Punk drones or softening up over his beloved sped-up soul. It’s the first time one of his records has actually matched the contents of his head. We knew it was a maelstrom in there, we just weren’t sure of its scale.
It’s Da Punk again, this time haring back with a filter disco classic that took everything Thomas Bangalter had learned from Stardust and made it harder, better, stronger, more soulful. Romanthony brings the testifying, grunting and working through an audacious, elongated breakdown that keeps your hands in the air until the blood drains out of them. Luckily, it’s all gone to your feet just in time for the final dance-off.
Junior says: “Look at my legs.” She’s crossing them and uncrossing them in time, alternating the leading leg. Later, she picks up the thread of the lyric and sings along to the big breakdown.
Best bit: That endless stop. It ought to banjax the song’s impetus but somehow Romanthony’s urgent vocal sustains a pace that isn’t even there. It’s a beautiful illusion.
Everyone says this sounds like Buggles, and I think that’s because it does. Tune in each day for more searing analysis.
Daft Punk have a taste for the kitsch, but these machine dreams feel so genuine that the gorgeous whole transcends the jokey means. As the treble gets turned up at the beginning, thrills mount. Robot funk is submerged in electronic wash, a murky drift that’s patted down by the shrill verse before bass bounds in and sweeps it clear. From then on, just bask in ludicrous ‘guitar’ shapes and vocoder taken to nauseous extremes, but most of all in a pop song sweet as sugar.
Junior says: “He sounds sad.” I hadn’t thought of that, but there’s a touch of the Paranoid Android. Still, I think it’s about hope. Junior soon got over the melancholy and undulated back and forth, the way she deftly moves her hula hoop.
Pop fluff of a different hue now, and French dance lord Sebastien Tellier’s audacious, doomed attempt to bring a bit of credibility to the Eurovision Song Contest. More doomed than audacious, because a) there isn’t a great deal of cred to an electro doo-wop number performed by a bloke with a beard (with further fake-bearded backing singers) even if he’s ably abetted by the Daft Punk chap pictured above, and b) it’s never going to work, is it? Eurovision is unsenduppable. In the event, even Sebastien’s zany arrival in a golf cart couldn’t stop the backing vocalists utterly messing up the bop-bop-doo-wop harmonies which make up the essential beauty of the song. A lovely bit of chuckaway pop was lost and a rapt continent was left with a French fellow taking the piss.
Junior pigeonholed ‘Divine’ as a “sitting-down song” and thought it had finished when the beat broke down in the middle. Maybe that would’ve been the moment for M Tellier to sneak off and leave the floor for the mighty Andy Abraham.
No one actually realised that we needed a reworking of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, but need it we did, and at this point in time these glossy disco-techno robot chiefs were the men to bring it to life. ‘Digital Love’ tickles the underbelly of naff, wraps it in fake-fur and plasters it with thousands of tiny mirrors. Yes, it’s a hugely uncool mirrorball of a dancefloor clearer, doing more for the synthesised electric guitar than any record since ABBA’s we-really-should-be-going-now farewell single ‘Under Attack’.
Junior’s mum and I are the biggest ‘Digital Love’ fans this side of Justice. Junior herself wasn’t so sure. This was played in my absence and I’m told that comments ranged, rather narrowly, from “Too loud, Mummy” via “Stop singing, Mummy” to “Stop dancing, Mummy”. On being told that a guitar solo was coming up, she replied “I don’t like guitar”. Anyone who’s seen her pulling Gary Moore faces while wielding the plastic Stratocaster will know that’s a blatant lie. Must have been one of those days.
Daft Punk were all about da funk and da cut-up grooves and da samples and da general messiness – and then along came second album Discovery and it was all shiny beats and bass so clean you could use it as a straw. After the outrageous party filter disco of 2000’s ‘One More Time’ wiped out the less extrovert Homework fans, along came ‘Aerodynamic’ to scare off the rest with widdly Yngwie Malmsteen guitars and just-this-side-of-naff classical fancies. Somehow, it ROCKED.
Junior’s an old slowhand at the air guitar so was happy to demonstrate her prowess; she learned how to say “Daft Punk” before doing the unprecedented (I think – someone check the archives) and asking for the track to be played again. Above all, she was very taken with the CD cover and propped it up next to her paintbox on her little table. She admired the name rendered in glossiest mercury, a visual aid to da Punk’s wild, bright, fluid, new disco palette.
Not for the first time this week, Junior retrieved the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ from the CD shelves and tried to stick it in the player. Not good news for Justice. Happily, they’re wannabes themselves – wannabe Daft Punks – so this was heavy irony, toddler-style.
I know we’ve mentioned Daft Punk quite enough for one Top 20, particularly one in which they don’t actually appear. Sorry about the spoiler. Anyway, they have to be invoked here because while they’ve been fannying around making dreadful albums and eye-wateringly boring (I’m told) films, Justice have bounced in on a filter-disco spacehopper and stolen their thunder. And they’re French, of course. ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ makes childlike vocals sound good, puts the house back in funk – and indeed the funk back in house – and spells out “P.Y.T.” and “B.E.A.T.” with bare face. Yes, it’s fun.