CD of the week: Daft Punk: Discovery

Daft Punk's eclectic prog disco fails to work the magic of their debut, says Alexis Petridis

Daft Punk Discovery

Whether you're aware of it or not, you probably already know Daft Punk's music. The French duo's 1997 debut album Homework was a record that genuinely changed things, introducing now-ubiquitous sounds and styles into pop. Twenty-something Parisians Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo applied pilfered chunks of old disco records to harsh techno beats and robotic vocoded vocals. Homework sold well, and Bangalter's solo project Stardust reached Number One with the similarly styled Music Sounds Better With You, but more remarkable is the extent of Daft Punk's influence on the charts. In the last nine months, three number one singles have been deeply indebted to Homework's template: Spiller's Groovejet, Modjo's Lady and, most notably, Madonna's Music.

And it's not just dance music that the duo have influenced, or at least been startlingly prescient about. Homework's sleeve loudly proclaimed Daft Punk's penchant for the bland, critically reviled "soft rock" of Peter Frampton and Andy Gibb. Four years on, East London's voguish clubs play just that, and Toploader's anodyne mid-1970s strumming sells millions. Daft Punk are never photographed unless heavily disguised (recently they've been modelling chrome robot helmets), but the solitary extant photo of the duo sans masks - taken in 1995 - features Bangalter in 1980s garb and Homem-Christo sporting a luxuriant mullet. It looks like a painfully hip fashion spread from last month's Face. Daft Punk's speciality is rehabilitating ideas long consigned to the dustbin of history, a cocksure Gallic disregard for the accepted canon of cool.

Four years later, they're at it again. Discovery comes studded with the sort of finger-twiddling, pseudo-classical solos that aspiring heavy-metal guitarists spent the 1980s trying to perfect. It also offers pomp-rock keyboard runs of which Rick Wakeman would be proud, and the return of the smooth mid-Atlantic funk ballad, beloved of both Phil Collins and commercial local radio 15 years ago.

The bad news is that, this time, the salvage operation doesn't work. Forthcoming single Aerodynamic illustrates its failings. There are pounding house beats, metal guitars, rococo synth flourishes and a Kraftwerk pastiche, but it all sounds disjointed and episodic. You can admire Daft Punk's desire to marry wildly differing musical cultures, and their disregard for the stultifying conformity of dance music, but it doesn't make Aerodynamic any more fun to listen to.

Admittedly, Discovery's experiments occasionally come off. Nightvision condenses 10CC's breathy chart-topper I'm Not in Love into 90 seconds of rather lovely instrumental drifting. And Short Circuit begins like an early 1980s breakdance favourite, corrodes into distorted noise and manages to sound both wildly funky and slightly disturbing.

But worryingly, most of Discovery's best tracks - hit single One More Time, vocal-house closer Too Long, the relentless Superheroes - are those that stick closest to Homework's filtered disco blueprint. And what are we to make of Veridis Quo, which sounds like the incidental music from one of Channel Five's erotic thrillers, or Something About Us, featuring Bangalter's Clouseau-accented vocals over antiseptic synthesisers and Level 42 bass?

One dance-music magazine has already proclaimed Discovery "the greatest album ever", but there's the lingering suspicion that if Something About Us were the work of Mike and the Mechanics rather than two trendy French blokes wearing "ironic" robot helmets, everyone would think it was rubbish.

In an era of guileless, style-less music, when earnest men in casual dress and the blandest of rock cliches rule, it seems almost churlish to condemn an album for prizing style over content or invention over end result. Most of Discovery probably sounded like a good idea at the time, but there's not much point in having ideas if they don't work. At worst, Discovery is less a record than a hypothesis. At best - like a lot of other records these days - it just sounds like Daft Punk's first album.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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