A lot of people have been talking about Daft Punk’s new hit, Get Lucky, over the last few weeks, with the majority seeming to agree that it’s pretty big. Now I don’t hate this record but i don’t think it’s that special either. Are you bored of it yet? Even with that, admittedly killer, guitar refrain (the only really decent hook in the tune) by Nile Rodgers, whose funk is clearly undiminished by his advancing years, the ravages of cancer etc, Get Lucky is still a pretty disposable tune and thus unlikely to last much longer than summer.
‘So what?!’ you might very well retort. ‘I love the way it sounds and how good it makes me feel right now!!’ And, up to a point, that’s completely fair enough. A lot of pop is very fleeting, and i’m definitely not saying Get Lucky is bad but the best (pop) music does so much more than just distract you for a few seconds (and Nile Rodgers knows this better than anyone – see below for more about that). What’s more, everyone involved in this record’s creation has made much better records before…
Let’s break Get Lucky down into its main component parts. The guitar hook is great but, bar the chorus, it lasts for the whole song without any changes. They all knew full well that it was the best part of the song and they didn’t really have any better ideas, so they just leant on that one all the way. The rhythm section is all good: the bass and beats do their job, filling out the groove that propels the whole song forward and makes it work well on the dance floor. Pharrell’s vocals do sound quite good but the lyrics are a bit weak really: this part could have been so much better. Daft Punk’s vocoders are even weaker (used/abused so much since their second album, Discovery, and now sounding massively clichéd – bit of a lame ‘trademark’, no?) but i guess if you’d never heard them before you would probably think they are pretty fun. Clearly a lot of pop music functions/succeeds on the back of such clichés but it doesn’t endure that way. After that, there’s only really that wee keyboard flourish towards the end before the whole thing is over. So, that’s one great idea, a decent rhythm section and then two or three fairly weak/average ideas. As our US cousins like to say: do the math. On balance, this is good but it’s not that great, is it?
And, with the dawning of the realisation, mid-song, that the tune isn’t actually going to progress past Nile Rodgers’ initial guitar hook, it becomes clear just how half-baked Get Lucky is. It sounds like the three of them spent about one afternoon/evening cooking up these ideas in the studio before phoning in the results from the pub/club later. ‘Let’s raise the bar,’ croons Pharrell, as if he knows that the mere mention of such an endeavour, coupled with all their names, is enough to fool the world that they’re doing just that. Oh, but they just did, didn’t they? More fool me… In the grand scheme of things, Get Lucky barely moves the bar at all and, if it had been made by anyone else, it wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is right now. It will be played to death for a few weeks before everyone – very quickly – tires of it. Those layers will peel away to reveal a shallow heart…
If you still don’t understand where i’m coming from, take a few minutes to listen to these three moments of genuine pop genius from the back catalogue of the three acts involved here. These records all became summer anthems when they were released and I think they all trump Get Lucky for creativity. I’ve included a bit more background info below for anyone who doesn’t know the artists’ significant history.
While most people would probably say Studio 54 ‘tribute‘ Le Freak is the bigger tune (and on a worldwide scale it was, especially in the US), I Want Your Love was bigger in the UK and its impact has endured ever since, thanks first to Detroit maestro Moodymann’s huge Nineties re-work, I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits, and second to Norwegian disco edit don Todd Terje’s more recent re-edit, which pasted the two versions together to create a hybrid fix for the Noughties’ disco revival circuit. Genius like this will always endure.
And, in Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers’ case, the list of hits and classic tunes is a very long one indeed: Dance, Dance, Dance; Everybody Dance from their 1978 debut album, ‘Chic’; Chic Cheer, Le Freak, Happy Man, I Want Your Love and instrumental B side Funny Bone from second album (also released in 1978) ‘C’est Chic’; while, from 1979’s ‘Risqué’, Good Times played a massive part in the evolution of hip hop when the Sugarhill Gang sampled it for their equally anthemic hit, Rapper’s Delight, but there’s also My Feet Keep Dancing, My Forbidden Lover and What About Me. Sister Sledge’s classic 1979 album, We Are Family, was a Chic production (and largely also co-written by Rodgers and his partner/bassist, Bernard Edwards), as was Diana Ross’s most successful album, 1980’s Diana (featuring Upside Down and I’m Coming Out). And that’s before we even start on his even more prolific and often equally classic work with pop music royalty in the Eighties, among which: David Bowie, Let’s Dance; Madonna, Like A Virgin/Material Girl; Duran Duran, Notorious; Steve Winwood, Higher Love… You see, I’m really not averse to great pop music. I just think it needs more than one great idea to make it as good as that.
[N.B. I have the utmost respect for Nile Rodgers. His autobiography, Le Freak, was easily the most compelling book i read last year. It details a childhood surrounded by beatnicks, artists, criminals, weirdos and junkies (two of whom raised him) in Fifties New York, the ups and downs of the music industry, his own battles with addiction, losing his life-long friend and sparring partner, very much the yin to his musical yang, Bernard Edwards (who died of pneumonia when he only 44), plus plenty more incredible anecdotes, while imparting a fair few nuggets of wisdom for anyone thinking of pursuing a similar line of work. The BBC made a good documentary about him recently, which you can view here.]
2) Daft Punk, Around The World
Again, just about anything on the French duo’s 1997 debut album, Homework, shows more imagination and/or depth than Get Lucky. From the same album, Da Funk is arguably the bigger/more classic of the two tracks but was always designed more for club than radio play. Also, check out Thomas Bangalter’s ace Tracks On The Rocks EPs, Vols I and II (Roulé), from 1995 and ‘98 respectively. This duo went slightly the boil after Homework. 2001’s Discovery was definitely a bold side-step but most of it didn’t do much for me when compared to the consistent peaks of Homework. Sure, One More Time has its time/place, but i think this is basically at a wedding or children’s birthday party… I still rate Daft Punk massively for the way they changed the game for house/dance music in the Nineties. They incorporated everything that had come before them into their own style and spearheaded what was labelled the ‘French Touch’ movement by British journalists at the time and their production style has arguably been more influential than anyone else’s ever since. However, they were always very reluctant pop stars and their classic tracks are almost all best experienced at loud volumes in a club. It’s also worth noting that they adopted a more Seventies approach to production in the making of Get Lucky, and they perhaps didn’t appreciate how much more time, effort and downright sweat this would actually involve, as Nile Rodgers hints in this recent interview. No doubt making Get Lucky was a lot harder than making any of the tunes on Homework etc. Oh, the irony.
3) Pharrell Williams, Frontin’
Much like the others, Pharrell worked as part of a duo in his early days and much of his work with Chad Hugo as The Neptunes and N.E.R.D wipes the floor when compared to Get Lucky. Check out Noreaga’s Superthug (from 1998), Kelis’s 1999 debut album Kaleidoscope (featuring Caught Out There, Get Along With You, Good Stuff), 2002’s In Search Of N.E.R.D album (featuring club banger Lapdance, among others), Nelly’s Hot In Herre (2004). Oh yeah, they also produced Britney’s I’m A Slave For You – a worldwide hit, which still sounds great today. Frontin’ was massive for us at Trouble when it came out, you couldn’t escape it that summer and it also still sounds fresh today.
The main reason all these records are so powerful is because they contain more than just one great idea. Get Lucky contains one. I don’t think anyone who loves dance music can really hate it and it’s not really about that. It’s about desiring that wee bit more from people of whom we’ve generally come to expect great things. Nile Rodgers is the only person who can really be commended for his part in this release and that part is the only real reason it’s actually sticking for so many right now. It’s a shame this trio couldn’t let Get Lucky incubate until they were able to turn out something that was genuinely worthy of all their talents. But, perhaps more fundamentally, isn’t its massive success really a complete indictment of what a parlous state contemporary music is in?
I’ll leave the final assessment to Gareth Sommerville, a DJ for whom i’ve always had enormous respect, whose talent is definitely very much undimmed after 20 years on the circuit and who has always had a way with a pithy phrase: ‘It’s the disco equivalent of walking around Ikea whilst sipping on a Starbucks latte.’ Quite.