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House boys
Rediscovering Daft Punk


Steel yourselves, Daft Punk fans: the group’s new Discovery (Virgin) will subvert your expectations. You are right, though, to have had such high hopes. In 1996, the Paris-based duo conquered the dance-music world with Homework (Virgin), a singularly expressive debut, the most influential of the year’s big blast of electronica CDs. Homework could only have arisen from the discos of Paris. Like the contemporaneous work of Parisians Laurent Garnier and Megasoft 97, it reeked of neighboring sounds: Flemish Belgian techno, goofy Italian space pop, the beats of French rap, the riffs of West African 1970s funk. There was nothing in US or UK music to compare with “Around the World” — Belgian techno licks played on Italian space-pop keyboards. Nothing to match the tipsy funk of “Daftendirekt” (with its hook line “the funk back to the time tunnel”). Indeed, Daft Punk were funk before funk became cool (in the US) again; and so they remained, as every one of Homework’s 16 tracks took over American DJ sets. Daft Punk’s low-riding, boyish slide beats redirected the taste of clubland, away from the glossy, feminine diva style that had previously reigned in discos.

No such luck this time. Discovery may go with the flow, but it will change nothing. Goodbye, electronica; farewell, Italian space pop; see ya later, Belgian techno. And so long, Paris. Except for a few brief, downplayed moments, Discovery could hail from anywhere. That Thomas Bagalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo, the masterminds of Daft Punk, never sing or rap in French on this CD is not of itself a loss of place: no one sang in French on Homework, but there was never a doubt which city’s cassoulet of midnight noises was its source. Not only is Paris missing from Discovery, so is almost any sound or style at all that could be mistaken for personal.

Yes, some of dance music’s most magical observations of the world dancers live in arise from its use of the impersonal and the generic, but Discovery makes no such effort. Much of it isn’t dance music at all. Almost all of it is featureless, pointless. If you like polished, cloying radio pop, you’ll probably listen — once or twice — to “Digital Love.” If you like directionless synthesizer instrumentals, “Nightvision” and “Veridis Quo” have what you want. “Something About Us” offers fusion-jazz lovers a loungy version of pillow-talk mood music. But why?

The CD’s five or six dance-music cuts do better. “Short Circuit” recalls (but doesn’t match) the pesky funk of Homework, then opens out to Discovery’s most effective electronic moment, a somber, sparkling, spacy coda. “One More Time” (the first single), a bittersweet renovation of late-’80s garage-style house music, aims for what’s left of garage’s soul (but doesn’t quite grasp it). Then come the real treats: “High Life,” “Crescendolls,” “Superheroes,” and — best of all — “Too Long” not only go back to the soulful, diva-style and guy-styled house music that Homework helped do in, they revive and even improve upon it. Only in the vast beatworks of Danny Tenaglia CDs will you find a diva outcry as joyous as that which militates “High Life,” or a rhythm track as flirtatiously agitated.

As for Romanthony, the microphone master who sings “Too Long,” not since Robert Owens crooned the David Morales–mixed “I’ll Be Your Friend” in 1990 — house music’s best guy vocal ever, an anthem in clubland even now — has a male voice made freedom, sex, and joy sound so endlessly desirable, and attainable. It has a deep but frisky beat, a fierce keyboard riff, and tipsy voices to echo his passion, to move and extend his exultation, to uplift his outcry and send the whole happy explosion skyward — into your body and right on through you. Just as house music is supposed to do but rarely does. “Too Long” isn’t David Morales, but it could be. It isn’t at all the Daft Punk you know, but it is essential house music. Sex, the blues, and gladness in which the generic, taken to its limits, becomes the unforgettable.

Issue Date: March 22 - 29, 2001

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