CD Review of Alive by Daft Punk
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Daft Punk: Alive

Reviewed by David Medsker


aft Punk has to know that their last album, 2005’s Human After All, was a dud. The album had some good ideas, but they drove each one of those ideas into the ground with blunt force, and the end result was the kind of record that could also serve as an instrument of torture. This might explain why the duo chose to take a year off before touring in support of the album; they knew that the songs needed more work.

Smart move. Alive 2007, which captures the band performing in France this past summer, absolutely kills. Knowing that the songs would need some editing from their club-worthy running times, the band decided to turn their entire catalog into Mash-Up Central, and in the process they produced a listening experience that is just as thrilling as the concert experience. A rarity for any band, but particularly rare for an electronic band. For my money, this is the best live album I’ve heard in years, maybe decades.

The album artwork contains a picture of the band performing live, with Chicago’s unmistakable skyline in the background. It’s a beautiful picture, but one aspect of it is somewhat disturbing: there isn’t a single keyboard in the band’s gear. It’s all knobs, faders and buttons. And yet, just when you’re tempted to launch into a tirade about how machines are killing rock music, you hear what Daft Punk has stuffed into these machines, and how they’re able to manipulate those sounds on the fly (more on that later), and words suddenly become meaningless. And forgettable.

The set begins with a simple slow-paced synth-processed voice saying “robot” while another says “human.” The voices gradually speed up, a hi-hat jumps in, and after teasing us for nearly two and a half minutes, the song finally, literally, explodes into “Robot Rock,” with a dash of “Oh Yeah” (not the Yello song) thrown in for flavoring. The gabby “Touch It” is married to the gabbier “Technologic,” and “One More Time” how awesome is that crowd roar when they hear the church bell ring is merged with “Aerodynamic,” natch. The band was especially keen of similar key signatures, and no moment on the album sums that up better than the melding of “Television Rules the Nation” with “Crescendolls.” The songs are practically fighting against each other, yet they go hand-in-hand at the same time. It’s as if Daft Punk made Human After All for the express purpose of being able to blend those songs with the other songs in their catalog.

There are two distinct qualities to Alive 2007 that set it apart from your typical live performance from an electronic band. For starters, the band clearly knew when to give the audience a chance to catch their breath; the set is loaded with exquisitely timed breakdown points, where the band either slows down or fades out altogether in order to make sure the crowd didn’t collapse into a heap of exhaustion. The other cool part is their tendency to tweak the EQ as they go along, creating these Fatboy Slim-style down-the-rabbit-hole moments that may have been lost on the concert attendee but are most appreciated by the CD purchaser.

It’s a given that the majority of the work that went into Alive 2007 was done in pre-tour rehearsal before the band ever set foot onstage; let’s face it, Daft Punk are not ones to just let things happen, man, like the free-wheeling Chemical Brothers have a tendency to do in concert. The sounds on Alive 2007 were organized and structured to the nanosecond, and hot damn, it’s still awesome. All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted, you know.

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