The boring truth is that “Random Access Memories” isn’t any better than just okay. It’s an exquisitely produced, somewhat sexless concept album about life, love and music — both natural and artificial — where too many of the duo’s collaborators foul up the flow by failing to serve the songs.
Chic’s Nile Rodgers, perhaps the most underrated guitarist alive, plays his Stratocaster like he’s inventing funk all over again. It’s fantastic stuff. Julian Casablancas of the Strokes acquiesces to the proceedings, too, Auto-Tuning his voice into aural wallpaper. It works. Pharrell Williams, a singer and producer whose falsetto coated hip-hop radio in the aughties, dominates the tracks he appears on. Spotty. Giorgio Moroder, the great disco godfather, narrates his abridged musical biography over a pulsing soundscape. It’s a head-scratcher.
The guests clear out for “The Game of Love” and “Within,” two absorbing robo-ballads that map out the shrinking gap between humanity and technology. “I am lost,” a mandroid voice croons on the latter. “I can’t even remember my name.” It’s difficult not to feel a mysterious intimacy toward these existential machines, the same sort of intimacy we feel toward our iPhones, which is totally unhealthy and very real.
After 74 minutes, “Random Access Memories” feels like a collection of good intentions made sloppy by — gasp? — human error.
Here’s a real gasp: This music has a much different effect when experienced in three dimensions. On the dance floor of U Street Music Hall on Tuesday night, the album was played twice, sparking sweaty communion. No hype machinery could have made the crowd move like that. It was booty over brain.
And while there’s something ancient and undeniable about a large group of humans instinctually committing to rhythm through motion, it was still sobering to cheer yesterday’s innovators as they settled into the role of tomorrow’s comforters.
It was tragic the more you thought about it. And it was fun the more you danced those thoughts away. Instead of the start of something, it felt like the end. It was the night the world caught up with Daft Punk.
Note: A previous version of this story misspelled Thomas Bangalter’s name. This version has been corrected.