From Metropolis to Star Wars, we've been tantalized by robots that can walk like us, talk like us, even look like us. Well, it's 2001: Where are all the robots? Sure, they can weld a car door; so can a unibrowed high school dropout. Worse are the robots at shopping malls and trade shows; they can't do anything without some dork hunched over a remote control. Will robots ever walk the streets among us? Will they work for us or alongside us? Will robots ever go out dancing, get wasted and try to get into another robot's pants? If so, with Discovery, Daft Punk has composed the soundtrack for that not-too-distant future.
French duo Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo revolutionized dance music with Daft Punk's 1997 debut Homework, spawning like-minded acts such as Air, Cassius and Phoenix, among others. On Discovery, Daft Punk has raised the bar again, further honing its unique blend of disco, house and funk. It's a more focused effort than Homework, with new elements such as guitar and vocals. (Imagine that.) As you might expect, however, Daft Punk incorporates those traditional elements with its own ironic twist: Not only do Bangalter and De Homem-Christo make electronic music, they are electronic, appearing in the Discovery packaging as robots. Who better to compose dance music for the next century?
The first four tracks on Discovery are what rock critics had in mind when they declared electronica the Next Big Thing. "One More Time" kicks off the disc, a party anthem for the digital age featuring a disco loop, thumping beats and a robotic voice imploring, "Oh yeah, don't stop the dancing." The searing "Aerodynamic" follows, paying homage to Eddie Van Halen with its finger-tapped guitar lines drenched in digital effects. "Digital Love" is a downright soulful number, and "Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger" is as over-the-top as Daft Punk gets. Unfortunately, the momentum can't be maintained over the entire disc: There are equal parts hits and misses among Discovery's 14 tracks. You have to sit through repetitive, mind-numbing house stomps like "High Life" and "Crescendolls" to get to more memorable songs such as the jazzy/funky "Something About Us" and the lush "Voyager."
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As good as the album is at times, it is weighed down by filler: the Herbie Hancock-inspired "Short Circuit," the soft rock ballad "Face to Face" and the aptly titled "Too Long." While there are inspired moments--using a sample of Barry Manilow on "Superheroes"--there just aren't enough of them. Daft Punk is at its best when Bangalter and De Homem-Christo are discovering new ways to reinvent old genres. That said, much of Discovery is just a rehash of Homework. That's not all bad, but we should expect more from the two coolest robots this side of Voltron.