Playing God
Daft Punk: Homework

four albums in (if you count Alive 1997), Daft Punk now possess what is probably one of the most contentious discographies for such a widely lauded and still working act. It’s taken them four years each to craft their new albums, and each time fans are delighted and horrified in seemingly equal measures. I have my own issues with Discovery and Human After All, but it’s their debut that I maybe have the most difficulty with. On all of their later albums Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter seem to have remembered that brevity is a virtue, but on Homework they followed many of their electronic music peers in assuming that because a CD could hold over seventy minutes of material, it should.

That’s not to say that most of the songs on Homework are bad, as even the palest efforts are competently executed and easy to listen to. But there’s a core of unimpeachably classic work on Homework, hidden among the merely good, and when you’ve got such a classic debut hidden in the outlines of the epic slouch of their debut, it’s hard not to get frustrated. The virtue of many of the best songs here are a kind of obsessively propulsive minimalism, and while it carries Daft Punk to great heights, on the more lackluster songs it winds up just tarnishing the whole effort. This, then, is the focused, killer statement of intent that Homework should have been and, around these parts, always has been thanks to the “skip” button.

1. “Da Funk” (5:29)
There’s no harm in leading with a stone-cold classic, one of the greatest singles of the nineties and a track that sets out the parameters of what the duo are doing here. Like most of the songs that are kept for this version of Homework there’s something almost brutal about the inexorable progression of the four or five sounds Bangalter and Homem-Christo weave together seamlessly to make one big beat that stomps all into submission.

2. “Fresh” (4:04)
In many ways a preview to the sunnier and more guitar-oriented sounds of parts of Discovery, this one doesn’t feel like the beach just because of the lapping waves heard in the background. Still pulsing a steady four-four, it’s a bit of a respite between “Da Funk” and what comes next, making a keyboard sound like a cut-up vocal sample or vice vera while an incredibly elongated guitar note is held in reserve.

3. “Around The World” (7:09)
Another one of the greatest singles of the nineties, there is no way you’d want to have a Homework without “Around The World.” For the first time on this album Daft Punk get a little long-form on our asses and it’s glorious, with the best vocodered sample ever and a surprisingly lush tune given the relative lack of ingredients. Lots of similar efforts get boring at some point before seven minutes, but “Around The World” stays golden.

4. “Rollin’ & Scratchin’” (7:27)
After the relative tunefulness of “Fresh” and “Around The World,” it’s time for a good belt of the stiff stuff. “Rollin’ & Scratchin’” is absolutely titanic, pounding its way into your forebrain not once, not twice, but thrice. Every time you think it’s going to die on you it just rears itself back up and proceeds to lay waste to all around it again with little more than a shriek, some hi hats, and a kick drum thump. This one showcases the kind of miniature, almost pointillist, marshalling of sound that makes all the tracks here more than the sum of their parts (whereas “Phoenix”, say, or “High Fidelity” really aren’t).

5. “Teachers” (2:53)
The only short track from the original Homework I’ve kept, and for two reasons; the list of influences seems a lot more relevant than the silly vocals on “Oh Yeah” or the ads or even “Daftendireckt”, and it’s also a lot more listenable than those songs, with a digital almost-diva singing the letter “E” in the background as the boys shout out Dave Clarke, Brian Wilson and Dr. Dre.

6. “Indo Silver Club” (4:34)
Of the slightly lesser tracks on the original Homework “Burnin’” almost equals “Indo Silver Club” in the trippy elasticity of its sound, but I deliberately don’t want to include a bunch of almost-great tracks in this version of the album—I want the best. And “Indo Silver Club” is, once again crafting something head-spinning out of the barest of ingredients.

7. “Rock’n Roll” (7:33)
This is a sentimental favorite of mine, but that notwithstanding it’s still a clear highlight of any version of this album, slowly building another wobbly, distorted synthesizer sound into a monster, until by the last two minutes you are either dancing or huddled in a corner, whimpering. There should probably be some sort of law against playing this on anything less powerful than massive club speakers, but even coming out of my little boom box it sounds like nothing else.

8. “Alive” (5:15)
Despite my love for “Rock’n Roll,” though, there’s only one way this can end, and Bangalter and Homem-Christo knew that too (although they tacked on “Funk Ad” afterwards), in maybe the finest single track the duo has ever put on one of their albums as Daft Punk. There’s little to say about “Alive” if you haven’t heard it, except to say it reminds me of a techno car wash, and it’s as driving and cleansing and uplifting as such a ridiculous image entails. If they had released the album in this form the beginnings and ends of some tracks would no doubt have been altered to fit better together, but wouldn’t you love to hear a version of “Alive” that segues cleanly from the ending drum stomp of “Rock’n Roll” into the slightly dubbier beats of the beginning of “Alive”? If it meant hearing this album, I bet you would.

By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2005-05-09
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