Thursday, December 9, 2010

Daft Punk - 'TRON: Legacy' soundtrack

Sometimes, for brief moments, it must suck to be Daft Punk. Generally regarded as one of the best electronic acts around for the last decade or so, the group has entered a cycle in the last five years of having their projects overhyped, critically savaged, and then redeemed. This happened to their last album, Human After All, which didn’t receive the love it deserved until nearly two years later, following a series of brilliantly staged live shows documented on Alive 2007. It seems like Daft Punk might have to go through the cycle all over again with their work on TRON: Legacy, a film in which Jeff Bridges (Starman, Big Lebowski, freakin’ Iron Man) and some young pretty people get trapped inside a computer.

Advance buzz on the project suggested the soundtrack would redefine music or whatever. Obviously, it won’t. There are only so many notes to play. Early reviews seem dismayed by the group’s use of an orchestra to perform their compositions, hoping for something more akin to Alive 2007. The problem is that they’re approaching the soundtrack as Daft Punk fans, and not as TRON fans.

I enjoy Daft Punk and TRON, which I think might explain why I love this record so much.

Let’s set up some parameters for discussing the album: First, TRON: Legacy hasn’t been released yet, so I don’t know how well it will handle as a score. In other words, I don’t know yet how successful the soundtrack is at is primary function. Sometimes brilliant soundtracks don’t do much for their films (Juno), sometimes they don’t hold up as independent works (Inception), and sometimes they’re perfect no matter what (Hans Zimmer’s work on The Dark Knight is flawless. This is not a debate).

It’s also important to take into account aesthetics. TRON: Legacy was never meant to be a sequel to Human After All, so it shouldn’t be regarded as such. But as a sequel to the original TRON soundtrack by Wendy Carlos (with some help from Journey!), it’s stunning. Carlos blended orchestral and electronic music to great effect for the original 1982 soundtrack, marking a milestone just as important as the early works of Kraftwork or the birth of post-punk. But Carlos herself was disappointed in the work, saying at the time that, “My music is simply difficult to perform… We were only allowed two days of orchestral recording, which for the sheer amount and complexity of music that I had written was inadequate” (Keyboard Magazine, Nov. 1982).

Daft Punk, by comparison, was able to organically create their score over the course of two years. They take Carlos’ original ideas and develop them further. For that reason alone, TRON: Legacy is a success. Sure, the duo gets help from Jeff Bridges on track two, “The Grid,” whereby he provides a spoken word explanation of the world inside a computer, but the score has plenty of rising/falling actions, divides up the orchestral-heavy vs. synth-heavy material, and generally creates a world of its own to get lost in.

TRON: Legacy is much more subtle than most people probably expected, as there are plenty of quiet moments, and even plenty of traditional orchestral movie moments. But that’s kind of the point – I know when I listen to the string swells of “Rectifier” that some serious bad guy shit is going down, because the tones used CONVEY BAD GUY SHIT GOING DOWN. These moments make the more Daft Punk-y tunes – upbeat, danceable techno – all the better, though. I’m not sure I would love “Derezzed” as much as I do if it wasn’t surrounded by mellower material. “End of the Line” is a midtempo electronic number, but it’s basically a primer for “Derezzed” to rock the party. Give and take. Tension and release. That’s how good music works.

This is not an album for Daft Punk fans per say, unless those fans also love science fiction and especially love TRON. Because these French robots totally get TRON. But I am excited for people to look back on this record in like a decade as an important document. Also, light cycles.

No comments: