Like that proverbial bubblin” crude, the music that for years has moved bodies in ultra-chic underground discos keeps threatening to explode aboveground. So far, it hasn”t happened, since major label execs are more fickle than C. Montgomery Burns, and top 40 listeners have been only indirectly exposed to the electronic gold: Though Moby”s Play put the bald genius on the radar of anyone privy to a Volkswagen commercial, the majority of the uninitiated were more likely to have picked up on the underground sound in the form of the trance-derived oonce of Madonna”s “Music.”
Being as they”re not only experimentalists but also French, you”d think Thomas Bangalter and Guy Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk would care even less about the tastes of American commercial audiences than their theoretical homeboy Michel Foucault. But having sold more than two million copies of their debut, 1996″s brilliant-in-spots Homework, and having honed a brand of club / dance music that”s palatable to folks who think that “E” just stands for “Entertainment,” they”re the guys most likely to bring electronic music out of the discos and onto the charts in 2001.
For Discovery, they ditched Homework”s relatively spare sonics in favor of the sound of maximum effect: Big-ass house beats, oh-so-hip synths, found noise, sitars, assorted female vocals, pop melodies, whatever they managed to pilfer from their favorite hip-hop records. They”ve also got what sounds like a hit single in “One More Time,” an ebullient slice of neo-disco that should work equally well on dance floors and pop radio.
But wait: You know those guitars that are, like, double guitars? Daft Punk don”t. They don”t know guitars at all, in fact (or else they have no use for them unless they”re distorted ad infinitum), and they certainly don”t know anything about the rootsy songcraft that”s given American radio listeners a sense of shared identity ever since Chuck Berry came up with the riff for “Johnny B. Goode.” Take away their noisemakers, and, melody-wise, you”ve got Barry Manilow, Donna Summer, the Buggles and a host of crappy bossa nova singers, to name a few of the these guys” songwriting forerunners. Taking into account their club / dance leanings, Daft Punk at their poppiest sound a little too much like such early-nineties hit makers as C&C Music Factory and Ya Kid K for their own good.
Still, since we live in the postmodern age and all, the ability to come up with good melodies means less than ever, as Beck, Puff Daddy and those Swede songwriters who”ve kept the Backstreet Boys in business know all too well. Despite sporting what sounds like a couple of potential hits, Discovery”s best stuff isn”t the stuff that”ll be eaten up by pop audiences. Empty experimentation and some throwaway tunes notwithstanding, it”s packed to the gills with innovation and ear candy, and though it”s not nearly as hip as Foucault”s The Archaeology of Knowledge, it”s a helluva lot less exclusive. And you can dance to it, too.