Four years after ‘Homework’ redefined dance music, turned handbag house into High Art and landed every disco chancer in Paris a record deal, can Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo still sound fresh in a post-Punk popscape of their own making? ‘Discovery’ is in no way a laurel-resting exercise. Way more instant than its predecessor, it is audaciously weird too. With its famously camera-shy creators now dressing as funkadelic Power Rangers, it is also something of a concept album. Indeed, this is a record so polished, intense and bursting with Pop Art ideas it almost belongs in the Tate Modern. So obsessive is the Parisian duo’s mission to replicate and celebrate the once-naff joys of (mostly) ’80s MOR disco-pop that they have become musical cousins of Jeff Koons, the über-kitsch artist who lovingly inflates junk ornaments to humungous dimensions, thus rendering them strangely beautiful and subverting the tyranny of bourgeois good taste. Phew! Pretentious? Not really, [I]mes petites légumes[/I], just French. French as fuck.
And Frenchness is surely key to all this. Growing up in the pop equivalent of a foot-and-mouth quarantine zone, Daft Punk have pulled off a brilliant wheeze by re-inventing the mid-’80s as the coolest pop era ever. And not even the officially approved retro-kitsch cool of Madonna’s lukewarm excursions into post-Daft terrain but all the bubble-permed, sports-jacket-and-jeans excesses they can muster. ‘Discovery’ blurs the lines expertly between old-skool disco, body-popping electro, techno-flash poodle-metal and ultra-cheese overload. Lost pop civilisations are rediscovered at breakneck speed, from the hyperkinetic Van Halen air guitars of ‘Aerodynamic’ and ‘Superheroes’ to the slice’n’dice Shannon-style clunk-funk of ‘Face To Face’ and ‘High Life’. Sun-kissed synth-pop excursion ‘Digital Love’ boasts the sublime plastic sheen of Buggles or Nik Kershaw. You can hardly move for Vocoders.
The Punk’s trademark fader-surfing, climax-building studio FX are sharper than ever, too. Guest vocalist Romanthony bookmarks proceedings, his treated warble gracing both opening neo-disco stomp ‘One More Time’ and climactic glitterball funk-out ‘Too Long’ – aptly titled at ten minutes and the only track here which outstays its welcome. Meanwhile, ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’ is this album’s ‘Da Funk’, all reinforced squelch-beats and descending basslines overlaid with robotic fitness-video chants. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo effortlessly surpass their legions of imitators here. ‘Nightvision’ builds bridges between Air’s opiated symphonies and soft-rocking titans such as Toto or Foreigner – hey, somebody had to do it. Unadorned jazz-funk smoochathon ‘Something About Us’ is Les Rythmes Digitales on love drugs, a ‘Careless Whisper’ for the 21st century. Half these tunes sound like the soundtrack to some great lost Brat Pack movie about troubled teens with big hair.
Mostly, though, ‘Discovery’ is simply fantastic pop; pop as art, maybe, but still pop. Unlike the epic groove marathons of ‘Homework’, only four of these 14 tracks break the four-minute barrier. Most perform like an SAS raid – bursting in, getting the job done, then abseilling out of your eardrums before you know what has hit you. This is an assault on the senses which will shag all the complacent indie loser/techno trainspotter snobbery out of our uptight Anglo-Saxon sphincters. [I]Mais oui[/I], my English chums, we are laughing at your piss-warm beer and your crappy hard-house underground.
Call it pop. Call it art. Call it retro-cheese neo-fusion with a side order of emperor’s new arse. But play this orgasmically great record until your brain implodes with joy. That’s what it’s there for.