Listening to LCD Soundsystem’s “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” conjures up the same response as listening to Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” did in the mid-’90s. Both songs, while being cheeky, spin together elements of rock and dance in a head-spinning/head-banging mix. LCD’s James Murphy had the pretense of the impending Daft Punk record, which was released about a month after his single was, going for him. But maybe he had heard some of Human After All and thought self-reference, or “concept,” was going to be hot in ’05. For him, the notion came together nicely. But for dance-floor heroes Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, it’s a huge let down.
But what made Daft Punk great on its 1997 debut, Homework, was the lack of pretense. Rock merged perfectly with funk, disco breaks showed up around every corner, and the whole album, particularly the shout-outs on “Teachers,” paid an earnest and honest tribute to the duo’s vast and varied influences. The pair’s metaphorical rebirth as robots on 2001’s excellent follow-up, Discovery, spelled trouble, but some alone time with “Digital Love” made that all better.
Human After All, Daft Punk’s third album, takes that concept several steps further. The album’s vaguely framed around the duo (again as robots) discovering human emotion via musical output. But the emotion is stale. The title track opens with bland repetition of familiar beats that go nowhere, robotized vocals spouting “Human After All” as the tempo increases. “The Primetime of Your Life” is a plodding shred of the duo’s past glory; it feels like a 14-year-old’s bedroom remix. The record’s first single, “Robot Rock,” is perfect for an obnoxious T-Mobil ad.
But Daft Punk’s major crime is “Technologic,” which takes the sped-up name-dropping from “Teachers” and applies it to computer habits: “Buy it/ use it./ Plug it/ play it./ Scroll it/ save it./ Trash it/ upgrade it.” The duo, which purportedly recorded Human After All in a matter of weeks, seems to have at least put some thought into album closer “Emotion,” a nice fader that spins and flows well. It almost helped me forget the other stuff I just heard.
A sloppy sketch of a record, the worst aspect of Human After All is its ability to tarnish Daft Punk’s good name. As I push these tracks around in my head, they mesh easily with the great rhythms on the duo’s first two albums. But I can’t help but want to turn it off. Or, maybe the big gag’s on us, the fallible humans. Either way, here’s to them getting up and trying again.