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20YAT #1: Daft Punk – Homework

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UK album chart peak: #8

Barely two minutes into Homework, a fake DJ announces the coming hour as “the sound of tomorrow, the music of today!” in a heavily-accented cheeseball radio voice. Coming at the start of a debut album from a couple of relatively unknown Parisians, it’s nothing more than playful bluster, a device to bridge the gap between Daftendirekt’s rolling intro and the start of the album proper. That the brag turned broadly into prophecy gives the subsequent 14 tracks an unexpected magic now.

Indeed, it’s difficult to listen to Homework, two decades on, without hearing echoes of the last twenty years of dance music. The stuttering bass and hi-hats of Revolution 909 set the template for Spiller’s Groovejet to top the UK singles chart three years later, Da Funk’s acid keyboard lines and slinking sleaze is one of the Trash kids’ electroclash blueprints, and one imagines that Rock ’n Roll is the track that was playing at James Murphy’s house when he conceived LCD Soundsystem’s punk-funk homage to the French duo in 2005.

Similarly, the foursquare hulk of American stadium EDM reveals its origins in Alive, the pummelling white-noise beats of Rollin’ & Scratchin’ have resurfaced almost cut for cut on Kanye West’s most recent records, and Fresh, with its samples of lapping waves and gentle keyboard licks, presages Daft Punk’s own later forays into 80s boogie and yacht-rock.

For all its influence on modern pop, though, Homework remains a curiously tough piece of work itself. 74 minutes long and relentlessly banging, Daft Punk clearly struggled to mask the fact that its tracks were conceived initially as standalone singles rather than for continuous play, a quality thrown into even starker contrast when cast against their own slavish devotion to running order on 2013’s Random Access Memories. Equally, the ferocious, super-compressed brick-wall production aesthetic requires a stern constitution in the home listener, even if that same aesthetic is rewarded tenfold any time one of these tracks is played in a club.

When Homework was released, Daft Punk gave an interview to Select, in which they were compared to Underworld (“Ooh La Lager Lager Lager", read the headline) and the Chemical Brothers, whose Setting Sun was still floating around the singles charts, building anticipation for their second album Dig Your Own Hole, due in April. (The article even carried a sidebar offering odds on which pair of electro producers - Monkey Mafia? Dub Pistols? Propellerheads? etc - would be “the next Chemical Brothers”). 

While those comparisons are understandable, and perhaps inevitable during high Britpop, they do Homework a disservice: this is not an album with the occasionally discomforting immodesty of the Chemical Brothers, nor Underworld's art-school self-consciousness. Instead, the enduring spirit here is a sort of giddy glee and prankster abandon, and that feral, mischievous quality makes it marvelously infectious, despite its imperfections.

Perhaps one of the privileges (but also something of a spoiler) of revisiting a 20-year-old album is that we know Daft Punk will iron out these imperfections soon enough. But regardless of their future development, Homework, even at 20, continues to sparkle with youthful charm.


Also out this week: Bush – Razorblade Suitcase (Interscope). Chart peak: #4