How Daft Punk’s ‘Discovery’ went from the album critics hated to a stone cold classic
It might seem like a whole lot of fun and games, but being a music critic comes with a heavy cross to bear. When it comes to analysing and critiquing albums for publications just like this, our occasionally hastily-prepared thoughts can sometimes miss the mark. And when that happens, the stinking artefact remains online for the world to mock for all time.
With 2016 marking 15 years of Daft Punk’s landmark LP Discovery, seasoned music reviewer DAVE RUBY HOWE has brushed the dust off a creaky corner of the internet to find a number of album reviews that music journalists probably wish they could take back now. Because despite the reception at the time, a decade and a half later Discovery stands as one of dance music’s most important albums ever.
Music snobs didn’t always love Daft Punk
Today we know Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo as perhaps the most celebrated dance music outfit of all time, but at the turn of the century dance music wasn’t as keenly embraced as it is now.
After the success of 1997’s breakthrough hit Around the World, Daft Punk were known as the pair of kooky Frenchmen who’d managed to infiltrate the mainstream and were now dressing up in robot costumes. As such, some weren’t ready to roll with Discovery’s concoction of disco, house and funk, and critics served up plenty of lukewarm reviews when the album dropped in 2001.
Let’s start with Pitchfork. In his review, site founder Ryan Schreiber gives an underwhelming grade of 6.4 to Discovery, expelling particular gall on One More Time with this old-man-yelling-at-clouds impression: “Maybe I just haven’t taken enough ecstasy and horse tranquillisers to appreciate the tinny, sampled brass ensemble, the too-sincere ‘chill out’ midsection, or the fat drum machine beats that throb in time with my headache.”
Feel like hearing about more writers pissing on the bible? Good-o, because there’s a whole bunch of other blunderous reviews to revisit. Bombastic American rock critic Robert Christgau gave Discovery a sorry C+ mark in the Village Voice, calling One More Time an annoying novelty and decrying “there are better beats on the damn Jadakiss CD”. Burn! (This coming from the guy who gave The Avalanches’ Since I Left You a paltry two stars, by the way.)
“Being trapped in eternity listening to Daft Punk is one definition of hell” – The New York Times
It gets worse. The AV Club’s Joshua Klein describes Daft Punk’s sophomore effort as “resoundingly stupid”, while the record received just two stars in the Guardian with Alexis Petridis contending Discovery “just sounds like Daft Punk’s first album”, singling out the fan favourite Aerodynamic as “disjointed and episodic” and symptomatic of the album’s failings.
Perhaps too far afield from his preferred genre, the late New York Times jazz critic Mike Zwerin poured cold water over Discovery with his conclusion that “Daft Punk is worth a listen or two (three might be stretching it)” and that “being trapped in eternity listening to Daft Punk is one definition of hell”. (No shade, Zwerin – no critic is perfect and I’ve written stuff here on inthemix I’d rather recant a few year down the track.)
The real legacy of Discovery
But a decade and a half later, it’s clear that Discovery was Daft Punk at the peak of their powers. As well as shifting units in the multi-millions, the album’s cultural impact is unparalleled.
The disco resurgence of the ‘00s owes everything to Discovery, not to mention the influence the album had on the next generation of dance music makers – James Murphy, Mylo, Justice and new wave stars like Porter Robinson, Madeon and Zedd. When he ran inthemix through his favourite albums of all time, Robinson declared that he thinks he’ll “die still calling this the greatest album of all time”.
Years after its release, Discovery still had extended moments in the sun. In 2007, Kanye West showed his appreciation for the Robots by sampling Harder Better Faster Stronger for Stronger in the pre-Yeezus days, introducing a new generation to the sounds of Thomas and Guy-Manuel.
And One More Time, the track Pitchfork suggested you’d need ketamine to enjoy? It currently boasts 93 million YouTube views, was voted the #1 dance track of all time by Mixmag readers in 2013 and placed at #5 in Pitchfork’s own list of the best songs of the noughties. In 2016, you won’t find a working party DJ in Australia who doesn’t still have it on their USBs as an ace up the sleeve.
While reviews for newer Daft Punk albums Human After All and Random Access Memories have been fairly mixed, Discovery now enjoys near universal acclaim fifteen years on from its release – even among the publications who initially wrote it off.
Pitchfork, for instance, devoured a substantial serving of humble pie when naming Discovery the third best album of the last decade. Likewise, in Rolling Stone – who awarded the album a paltry three stars at time of release – Discovery clocked in at #8 on the mag’s list of the best “EDM albums” of all time (joining rank with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Moby, Juan Atkins and Daft Punk’s own Homework LP).
And in The AV Club’s round-up of the best LPs of the ’00s the album ranks at #20, a severe about-face from calling Discovery “resoundingly stupid”. Funny how things change, isn’t it?
Why we’re still spinning Discovery
Back in 2001, inthemix wrote, what made Discovery excellent was that it did things differently.
“The true genius of Discovery is that Daft Punk have broken the rules. They’ve released house from its shackles and announced to purists that music can be fun, it can be different and that most of all, the only person you have to be true to, is yourself,” writer Andy Pickering assessed. “It’s dance music, but not as you’ve heard it before. Discovery has a thick electro-disco pulse that runs right through it, but it’s also hot-wired to a joyously glam-rock sense of performance, fun and showmanship.”
Ten years later, ITM named Discovery the second best album of the 2000s (losing out only to The Avalanches) and set out to describe its genius as simply as possible. “There’s a reason that Daft Punk’s Discovery is rated so highly amongst fans: It’s just freakin’ great. Basically every track on the album stands out as staples of modern dance music.” Now, ain’t that the truth?
Dave Ruby Howe is the Music Director at triple j Unearthed. You can find him on Twitter.