Daft Punk
Human After All


hen we last left Our Heroes, a.k.a. Daft Punk, they had just released 2001’s landmark Discovery, announcing that they had been summarily killed and replaced by robots – a publicity stunt that smacked of Krafwerk’s pioneering Man Machine. The euro-tronic retro-chic was hardly a surprise, since what the duo’s debut, 1996’s Homework, lacked in substance, it almost made up for in sheer reference points; from 1976-era satin jacket artwork and iconic sleeve memorabilia to the “Another One Bites the Dust” stomp of “Da Funk”’s bass and drums and “Teachers”’ inventory of rock and DJ gods, the band was steeped in pop mythology. But therein lied a crucial difference; where their German forebears believed in technology’s capacity to refine pop with the efficiency of automobile—to distill it to its purest form, eliciting our most human qualities—Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter harbored deeper suspicions about pop’s origins and machinations. Bangalter’s father had been a music biz veteran of the 70’s disco scene, and for Daft Punk, the marketing gimmick was as violently suggestive as it was playfully reverent.

Of course, you’d have never known it from the smashing success that was Discovery—still for many the best electronic pop album of the decade, an effervescent record chock full of vocoders, Frampton-esque talk box guitars, and peerless pop songwriting that emerged as if from the ether. But if Discovery was just that—the document of two men (or robots) unearthing pop music’s possibilities—then Human After All is the polar opposite: a group discovering pop’s limitations, resulting in what for many is already being touted as the disappointment of the year.

Indeed, the letdown has been palpable, with many struggling to comprehend how the same band that had scaled the heights of masturbation ode “Digital Love” and the Jason Forrest-shaming Todd Edwards collaboration “Face To Face” only four years earlier could produce a record so patently tossed-off, lazily mixed, and lacking in dynamics. So disillusioned were most fans in the run-up to Human After All’s release, there was considerable hubbub as to whether the version leaked on the Internet was a fraud—that it wasn’t was as much a testament to the group’s reputation for cunning as it was the apparently shabby quality of the music.

It’s a hard point to argue at first; after the opening title track’s generally skilled crescendo of vocoders and rock guitars, the listener is left with little to pick over, with most tracks consisting of little more than rehashes, empty slogans accompanied by aimless riffs that sink in the face of repeated listens. “Prime Time of Your Life” is less a song than framework on which to load more vocoders and trend-jumping schaffel beats. “Technologic” recycles the litany of consumer catchphrases featured in Discovery’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” without any hint of its predecessor’s excitement. Constituting the record’s only dance tunes proper, “The Brainwasher” and industrial “Steam Machine” come and go without a trace, with “Emotion” and the gentle “Make Love” recalling Krautrock maestro’s Cluster at their most pastoral providing modest oases from what is otherwise blunt, brutal, uninviting music.

So, it’s a career-killing blunder then? Not quite. We won’t likely be hearing “Steam Machine” in clubs anytime soon, but as we might expect from Our Heroes, there’s a quite bit more going on than meets the eye. Indeed, what we have here appears to be a rather wicked burlesque of pop’s current goings-on—a good old-fashioned “piss take” that also happens to be just this side of genius. Piecing together the puzzle begins, ironically, with closing track, “Emotion,” a cut so baldly one-note that only Daft Punk could have pulled it off. Static to the point of lifeless, the song features a building chordal riff, with the inevitable beat entering two-and-a-half minutes in. Hovering above it all is a machine repeating the word “emotion” over and over, never even bothering to convey it. A brilliant conceit; forgoing Devo-style inertia, Daft Punk portray something altogether more damning—a complete absence of emotional capacity. Conor Oberst, take note.

Lead single “Robot Rock” answers the same question a different way. It’s to Bangalter and Homem-Christo’s credit that they’ve always understood that authenticity has no place in any form of popular music—and here they shatter notions of rockism by revealing the rock idiom for what it’s become: formulaic pop music. For a group predicated on the idea that pop has died (or been killed), “Robot Rock” is the aural manifestation of that idea, a plastic guitar riff that does nothing, means nothing and goes nowhere for an unconscionably long time. Along the same lines, “On Off,” nineteen seconds of channel-surfing, is followed by the empty sloganeering of “Television Rules the Nation,” whose guitar riff is every bit as ham-fisted as its message. It’s the same story, track after track, willfully mistaking alternation for variation, intensification for development and dynamics. In other words, a shining example of pop songcraft in the 21st Century.

Portraying the state of pop as a series of predictable formulae long since exhausted by corporate superstructure, Human After All more than lives up to its name, rendering a metaphor for failure on the grandest yet simultaneously most personal of terms. And certainly, as the title track’s passionate desire to break through reminds us that quest for purity and transcendence endures even in the most hardened of hearts—even in cynical manipulators such as Our Heroes. But perhaps Kraftwerk were right. Maybe technology does elicit our most human qualities—just not the qualities they were thinking of. Daft Punk, indeed.

Reviewed by: Matthew Weiner

Reviewed on: 2005-03-14

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Posted 03/14/2005 - 06:50:43 AM by jmeister:
 Brilliant review, I could not agree more with you. I am glad to see someone stand up for this record, that is for all intents and purposes, really quite good.
Posted 03/14/2005 - 08:04:34 AM by Vykromond:
 This reminds me of the Stylus review of Eminem's 'Encore,' except that review was unafraid to call a spade a spade and upbraid the artist for abusing their musical privilege in order to make a "statement"- at the expense of any sort of musical merit whatsoever.
Posted 03/14/2005 - 02:55:44 PM by Shinji:
 I'm glad to see a positive review of this album as well. Personally I think it's largely a framework (As was mentioned of the track, "The Prime Time of Your Life") and is just awaiting someone to sample or remix a lot of the tracks to show their true potential. I almost feel that the album isn't quite done in the sense that so much potential is obvious in some of the songs but is never quite achieved. They just approach perfection instead achieving it. A question to the fellow readers though: Does anyone else feel that this album turns more back to the sounds and structures found on Homework than on Discovery?
Posted 03/14/2005 - 03:02:33 PM by wmurch3:
 So basically it's good because it sucks? Sounds like 14 bucks well spent to me.
Posted 03/14/2005 - 03:23:59 PM by sovietpanda:
 so they're making a statement about shitty music by making more shitty music... so the album might say something important, but still sucks?
Posted 03/14/2005 - 03:54:01 PM by IanMathers:
 It might suck structurally, but that doesn't explain why I keep playing "Robot Rock" and "Emotion" over and over again, though. I can't make my mind up about this one.
Posted 03/14/2005 - 03:59:12 PM by lovezero:
 i think, this rate is a little bit high but the album is generally cool. i don't know what atracks me in this album but my hands go and put the cd to the tape. maybe, it is only "robot rock" that brings that feelings of mine...
Posted 03/14/2005 - 05:45:40 PM by pagan_poet:
 Assuming for a moment I accept the reviewer's conceit about this album's supposed concept - I still don't know for the life of me why I'm going to fork over $20 for this half arsed CD if, for probably half that much, I can grab the Britney Spears Greatest Hits album. I mean, if I look for a reason to like Britney's GH long and desperately enough, I can cook up the exact same notion of it being a irony-laden concept album about the "predictable formulae" of 21st Century pop as MW claims about Human After All. Puh-leese, this review, like Human After All funnily enough, is an insult to our intelligence.
Posted 03/14/2005 - 11:22:37 PM by Laughspit:
 I am sorry, but it is disappointing that Stylus would even publish this review. It is honestly one of the worst album reviews that I have ever read.
Posted 03/15/2005 - 12:23:34 AM by jmeister:
 As far as the Britney Spears comment goes, she never established any credibility to begin with so she could never play with pop conventions or have any good reason to comment negatively on them. Daft Punk have established themselves as great artists and their albums deserve to be be criticised under a different context then Britney Spears. Whether the review's assmptions are correct or not, I don't know. Dismissing the review for critically analyzing the content and making assumptions and conclusuions seems to be a fairly normal practice as afr as engaging art goes. And yes I think Daft Punk create art c'mon they are French.
Posted 03/15/2005 - 04:08:48 AM by unsaunsa:
 This album is brutal and harsh, it removes the more vocal human elements of Discovery to deliver a fully electronic, mechanical whole, devoid of all human ideas of emotion and morals. It's also great.
Posted 03/15/2005 - 09:06:46 PM by joeyjeremiah:
 Fantastic review. For me, this album is musically the electronic equivalent of Nirvana's "Bleach". It is the cultural significance of the album that makes it. The Daft Punks want to get a message across, an ambition they are harbouring for the first time, I'd suggest: the magic of pop is dying at the hands of television. I think they're right. We've gone in fourty years from Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds to annual TV talent shows and software which evaluates the likely hit potential of a new song based on, essentially, it's mundanity. Discovery and Interstella5555 were detailed, technicolour and totally synthetic. I would have loved to hear and watch more of the same with this album, and I hope that DP will get back to it eventually, but... it seems that right now Daft Punk would rather beat 'em than join 'em, and if the only other option is following the Green Day path of "simplify, homogenise, capture the Christian Rock market if you can", then go for it.
Posted 03/15/2005 - 11:36:57 PM by unsaunsa:
 Exactly. If the washed out tv image on the front and the all black cd (and packaging for that matter) don't give it away, then the music will. Listening to this album 5 or 6 times now, I think it's more in line with Gorecki style minimalism than dance music and that is a rarity these days.
Posted 03/16/2005 - 03:10:34 AM by mfgdog:
 I'll sum it up 4 you: Discovery was Star Wars and this one is Empire...yeah, it's darker and colder than before, but arguably better. And what if Our Heroes were not killed by machines, but forced to masquerade as machines to avoid being killed by them? This would be their distress call. You heard the last album, it must have been tough for these guys NOT to make a multi-orgasmic dance record this time around. They show great restraint to hold the groove and have forced themselves to be creative in more subtle ways. And what sounds they produce on this recording! So what if it's less musical? These guys are sonic surgeons, and they've just re-arranged the contents of your skull. There now, doesn't that feel better?
Posted 03/16/2005 - 01:07:32 PM by baxter:
 Please. Nice attempt at the 'it's a commentary on the vacuity of pop music' cliche but this is not, at any level invented or otherwise, a good record. It's the sound of dance music concertina'd (sic) at the end of a creative cul de sac. What you see as a commendably dispassionate is just a duo of artists bereft of ideas. For what little good dance music that has recently been produced check out the likes of Colder; anything touched by the hand of Playgroup; output from the Kompakt stable or Daft Punk's fellow country men Black Strobe - to name a few of the few.
Posted 03/19/2005 - 09:55:34 AM by diddywah:
  "Discovery was Star Wars and this one is Empire" Worst Star Wars analogy ever. This album is too good to be a statement on the vacuousness of modern music and too crap to be an album of any real merit. If this is any film it's "pearl harbour" - an overlong and mindnumbingly dull creation.
Posted 03/22/2005 - 09:25:19 PM by raininaudio:
 I have a little tin rocket in my room. If I wind it up it will roll across my desk with sparks shooting out the back. The device is simple, and after having watched its little trick a half-a-dozen times, I just keep it on my desk for decoration. A few decades back, this piece of tin would have been an actual toy on the market; though nowadays it costs about 20 dollars more and is usually purchased simply to make a statement for a cubicle. This album, if I'm willing to go along with the reviewer, is the same kind of thing. It's a statement, supposedly, at how formulaic and shallow rock music has become. However, once the statement is finished, the record stops spinning, and my head stops nodding, and then I remember that I already kind of got their point before I hit play. I knew that a lot of pop music was getting tin-thin and sophomoric. In fact, I turned to Daft Punk as the remedy for that. I guess I could listen to Robot Rock for the 15-seconds that are, I admit, awesomely addictive, but do I really need the full 3 minutes in order to understand the message behind it? And what a novel message it is! "Rock music, for the most part, is bland! We watch more TV than radio and when we are in front of the tube it is at our own expense for the shallow commercialism drowning our fair cities." Daft Punk had already killed the monster of pop with their gorgeous, complicated sound on Discovery, and like I said, if I'm to believe Daft Punk put this out to get the message across that music can suck by sucking themselves, then what am I supposed to listen to? And why, further, did they include any elaborate melodies on this album at all? I'd hate to think that Daft Punk would go to such self-destructive lengths in order to let their fans know that the music they weren't listening to anyways was turning bland and uninspired. I'd like to think Daft Punk isn't so self-involved, as this reviewer is, to make more out of the art for themselves than the fans. What I'd like to think, is that Daft Punk simply made a mistake, and recording an album in two weeks won't be such a good idea next time. Instead of making Daft Punk out to be a dance-music machine that now must draw a caricature of themselves for their own amusement, I'm just going to forgive them, and admit that they must be, in fact, "human after all."
Posted 03/22/2005 - 10:40:34 PM by ChairmanSac:
 I don't care what kind of message Daft Punk was trying to send with this album. This is just shitty music. Music that has a message or some underlying signifigance is fine, for the most part, but I don't want to listen to shitty music in order to become more aware of the fact that a lot of music is shitty; that has to be one of the dumbest concepts I've ever heard. While Daft Punk's intentions may have been noble, this is a terrible idea. And all of you people who stand up for this album on the grounds that it is some type of commentary on the state of popular music today are truly retarded. But what do I care? You can all listen to this shit album and be reminded of other shit. Enjoy.
Posted 04/07/2005 - 09:13:21 AM by pyrovolley:
 Let's cut to the chase shall we? The 2 frenchmen sold their souls to the Gap and after waking up from whatever high they were on, felt dirty. This album is what they used to wash their ears out. We shouldn't have to suffer because they feel guilty. Get over it. You're young, rich and can produce amazing music. Life is too short gents. Get back to work. It's ok to make music people like. It's ok to make music that makes money. It's even ok to make music that has a message. But if the tracks suck, and you know they suck - erase the file and start over. Bring the beats back. Oh - and if you really want to shock people and send a message...take off those stupid Galactica helmets and grow up. This album was weak, not profound. Good effort by the reviewer to spin a great fairy tale. Now put the pipe down.
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