Album Reviews: Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories with Contributions from Paul Williams

Daft Punk’s eagerly anticipated new album Random Access Memories is out and the reviews are in. The album debuted #1 on the U.K. and Australian album charts this week. Below are review excerpts featuring Paul Williams’ contributions – “Touch” (lyrics and vocals by Paul) and “Beyond” (lyrics by Paul).



3 out of 4 stars – “Even more audacious is ‘Touch,’ which sounds like Daft Punk’s answer to ’70s schlock epics such as ‘MacArthur Park’ or an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical score. It’s even got Paul Williams, the septuagenarian auteur behind hits for the Carpenters, Three Dog Night, Helen Reddy and Barbra Streisand. Williams plays a ‘tourist in a dream’ amid a shifting array of musical backdrops – funk guitar, noodling synthesizers, disco kick drums, classical strings, drifting-asteroids ambiance.

The track centers an album unafraid of embracing the sentimental goo that makes some ’70s and ’80s music so off-putting to subsequent generations. But Bangalter and Homem-Christo don’t play it as camp. In Williams they have found a persuasively bereft narrator, who comes off as sincere, vulnerable. ‘You’ve almost convinced me I’m real,’ Williams shakily concludes, but ‘I need something more.'”

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“The thematic crux of the album is ‘Touch’ featuring Paul Williams, the composer of The Muppet Movie’s ‘Rainbow Connection.’ This, too, is a song about making connections: ‘Touch, I remember touch / Pictures came with touch,’ it begins, and later, ‘I need something more.’ That’s the same sentiment that Daft Punk have emphasized in interview after interview: Frustrated with consumer technology, they decided they needed something more… I’ll give Daft Punk this much: Reading Paul Williams’ name in the credits sent me to YouTube to listen to ‘The Rainbow Connection’ for the first time in 30-odd years, and before I knew it, I was weeping on my keyboard.”

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Grade: A – “The wistful ‘Touch’ finds Paul Williams looking back on young love: ‘I remember touch,’ he sighs through a vocoder, as spaceship sounds fire off. ‘You’ve given me too much to feel/ You’ve almost convinced me I’m real.’ You don’t know whether you’re supposed to imagine him playing a sad HAL 9000 or a lonely astronaut. And maybe that’s the point: It’s hard to tell the difference between people and machines in dance music these days. But if EDM is turning humans into robots, Daft Punk are working hard to make robot pop feel human again.”

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4 out of 5 stars – “Often, your mind boggles at the audacity on display. The epic Touch somehow manages to be both ridiculous – it shifts from electronic noise to delirious high-camp disco by way of backwards tapes, a lengthy synth solo and a brass section that sounds as if it arrived in the studio direct from the orchestra pit of a Broadway musical – and genuinely moving. Paul Williams’ fragile voice rubs awkwardly against the arrangement, the final chorus of ‘if love is the answer, you’re home’ delivers an unexpectedly potent emotional punch.”

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4 out of 5 stars – “There’s a narrative here, too, although in concept-album tradition, it’s a vague one. The processed vocals unspool a story that suggests cyborgs striving to be human – pretty much the story of all of us these days. On “Touch,” Williams trades drama-queen verses with a cyber-chorus, like some alternate ending to Dave Bowman’s standoff with HAL, the computer, in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s completely ridiculous. It’s also remarkably beautiful and affecting. So goes much of the record. Verses approach the banal; old-school-production treacle is laid on thick, but the creative soul is palpable.”

Rolling Stone also picked the best 8 Daft Punk songs ever of their 20 year career and “Touch” was number 8.

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8.8 Best New Music – “RAM’s best songs come in its second half, another clue that it’s meant to be heard in full. It builds as it goes. “Touch”, the record’s literal centerpiece, is where things start to get interesting. It’s telling that the songs featuring the two oldest and deepest influences on the record– Moroder and Paul Williams– are the most over-the-top.  (Williams’ role in the 1974 cult film Phantom of the Paradise became an early obsession for Daft Punk.) These pocket symphonies allows the duo to take their concerns to the furthest reaches of ambition– and good taste. “Touch” packs in a Cluster-fied spacey intro, some showtune balladry, a 4/4 disco section complete with swing music trills, and a sky-scraping choir, all in service of a basic lyrical idea: love is the answer and you’ve got to hold on. It’s strange, disorienting, and emotionally powerful, with a silliness that doesn’t undercut the deep feelings in the least. It encapsulates what makes Daft Punk such an enduring proposition: their relationship to cool. Their vulnerability comes from embracing cheese while also understanding the humor and playfulness in it, holding all these ideas in mind at once.”

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Phantom of the Paradise is key to understanding Daft Punk’s aesthetic. In the movie, a nerdy songwriter is reborn as a phantom who attempts to exact revenge on an evil svengali record producer named Swan. In one scene in the movie, Swan traps the phantom—now wearing a tight black leather jacket and a robot helmet—in a sophisticated recording studio walled with racks of analog gear. The phantom, whose vocal cords have been destroyed, speaks through a talk box attached to his chest, sounding remarkably like a vocodered lyric in a Daft Punk song. It’s easy to see why the rock opera was catnip for Daft Punk, who claim to have watched it more than 20 times—the movie is completely over-the-top, drenched in pathos, and layered with in-jokes and sideways references, much like the band’s music.

Touch is the apex of Random Access Memories, the total realization of the album’s ambitious reach. There’s nothing cool about it, and it takes guts to make music like this in 2013 on such a grand scale. It’s Daft Punk’s love letter to Phantom of the Paradise, and it’s schmaltzy and deeply weird. The lyrics are, well, daft (“Touch, sweet touch/ You’ve given me too much to feel”), but the lyrics are beside the point; Williams’ graceful vocal delivery is awe-inspiring. It’s simultaneously melancholy and uplifting; the moment where Williams’ voice trails off and “Get Lucky” begins is a great moment in pop music.”

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“The tunes explore variations of the symbiosis between man and artificial constructs. Paul Williams’ warm voice balances the eerie space built by synths in “Touch,” while “The Game of Love” is a wistful funk love letter to humanity. The sound veers between jazzy, cinematic, disco, post-modern funk and even provincial Balkanic bodega in the 1980s.”

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5.0 Classic – “Touch blends electronic sounds with gospel music, with a heartwarming anthem of beauty. Beyond is when you realize Daft Punk has created their best release ever. I will repeat, their best release ever. Beyond takes you to a place that you’ve likely never been, or have wanted to go in terms of music. And it perfectly represents what I have to say about every track on this album: every single sound you hear has been in a song from the past, yet it combines to create a track that you’ve heard nothing like.”

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“On the album’s best, riskiest tune, Paul Williams of the duo’s beloved Phantom of the Paradise insists ‘you’ve given me too much to feel.'”

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Grade: A – “Random Access Memories’ most imposing barrier to entry is also its center of gravity, the showstopper “Touch.” A grand suite of prog, Salsoul disco, and Broadway balladry, “Touch” features Paul Williams, a singer-songwriter worthy of admiration even if he were only responsible for ‘The Rainbow Connection’ (talk about joy at its purest and most unfashionable). Williams, now in his 70s, croons about the album’s central themes – human nature, memory, connectedness, identity, and of course, the unstoppable need for pleasure – while the track abruptly shifts from beeping and groaning abstraction, to hoarse solo performance, to piano-and-horn driven dance, until it busts open for a children’s choir and a string section to recapitulate the song’s splendid melody over and over again. Williams’s devastating vocal performance provides ‘Touch’ with a fittingly dramatic finale. The song serves as a litmus test for the listener’s response to the album that surrounds it. Fall for “Touch,” and the robots already have you deep in their sequins-lined tuxedo pockets.”

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“That’s never more apparent than on the 8:18 album centerpiece “Touch,” a sprawling, emotional collaboration with undisputed ’70s songwriting legend Paul Williams that cycles through ambient techno, disco and melodramatic soft rock that practically hypnotizes the moment Williams achingly croons ‘Touch, I remember touch / Pictures came with touch / A painter in my mind / Tell me what you see.'”

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Gratitude & Trust By Paul Williams & Tracey Jackson
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