- So, what's it to be? A review of Daft Punk's fourth album proper, with all the derivative comparisons that would entail? A review of a film score, considering the pitfalls a lack of visual references could bring? A review of orchestral music for an electronic music magazine? Or a personal account of what all this means for a hopelessly daft Daft Punk fan? Certainly, there's no shortage of angles, but each one appears more fraught with subjective, misplaced, contextual and irrelevant tripwires than the next. Perhaps the only fair evaluation would be via the near impossible task of regressing to a state of total naivete—turning out the lights on the hype, the robot masks, the dayglo bike race, the hope for atonement for Human After All—and just listening for once. Though, perhaps more realistically, all of the above will be taken into account in an assessment that's heartfelt and considered, but inevitably flawed—not unlike Tron: Legacy OST itself.
Hopes and expectations were always going to be confounded. After all, that's what Daft Punk do best. If you fell in love with the gritty house mastery of Homework, the chances are you weren't really going to be endeared to the blue aliens and intergalactic disco balls of Discovery. But a whole lot of other people were. And probably you, too, after a while. Then the up-yours leather jackets were clad and people seeking digital love instead got a steam machine and promptly turned their noses. But then, weren't they the same people moshing to "Robot Rock" at the foot of the Pyramid? It's the prescience of their volte-masques that cements their legend, and in this transition from studio to symphony, from dancehall to cinema hall, surely disappointing the track junkies along the way, Tron's place in the Daft Punk canon of the unexpected is assured. Though will it make their canon of the adored?
Well, if it weren't for the two things this work is supposed to sound like—a film score, a Daft Punk record—then yes, almost certainly. Although their charge to soundtrack moving images is an undoubted success (the dramatic dynamics throughout crave visual representation), it's the conscious affectation of a style known for its melodic limitation and optic dependence that, in places, brings an air of the ordinary, of the undaft, to their music. Pieces such as "Arena," "The Game Has Changed" or "Fall" are all, as promised, grand orchestral works suffused with the duo's more familiar sound, but they are also destined to play a secondary role to the onscreen action. In this strictly auxiliary capacity, melodic extravagance is unhelpful so they tread only one or two chords, relying on steep crescendos and sudden fortes for development. This makes for exciting viewing, but at times humdrum listening. As to whether it is a criticism that ought to be levied in light of the task at hand, to put it simply, this is not a review of the film.
Soundtracks do not always have to be atmospherically subservient. Wendy Carlos showed it, Vangelis showed it and, in plenty of other places on Tron, Daft Punk show it. When not concerned with making robot-friendly crowd-pleasers ("Derezzed" or "End of Line"—both possible inclusions on previous albums, but would-be filler), or setting string arpeggios in time to their steam machine, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homen-Christo are responsible not only for some of their own most satisfyingly ambitious writing to date, but also for some of the most memorable electronic film music since the aforementioned artists—clear influences—enjoyed their heyday. "The Son of Flynn," "Adagio for TRON" and "Solar Sailer" are particularly resplendent in their modular-baroque handling of frisson-inducing melodies, often appearing to retrace the cadences of old favorites ("Aerodynamic," "Veridis Quo") only this time free from beat shackles, more open to expression.
Daft Punk have always been imitated, never imitators. Siphoning images into music is itself a process of imitation and perhaps unavoidably as such, there are occasions on Tron where the reverse is true. These are the only let-downs. Elsewhere, the rich compositions, an ability to evolve, a refusal to be cowed by expectation—qualities that have defined their career—are as credible as ever, and with the most familiar sounding efforts here counting among the least interesting, it beggars the optimistic question: what next? As for what all this means to me: still hopelessly daft.
02. The Grid
03. The Son Of Flynn
08. The Game Has Changed
10. Adagio For Tron
12. End Of Line
15. Solar Sailer
17. Disc Wars
20. Flynn Lives
21. Tron Legacy (End Titles)