Lyrical Analysis: “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk

The lyrics can be found here. You can listen to the song below:

When Daft Punk wasn’t bringing France’s touch on Electronic music to the masses, they were putting their own touch on vocal takes. Daft Punk’s singles have a character to them which feels human. The hooks are sung clear and coherent; nurtured by a funky kick you’d hear once and latch onto. But just how did robots connect into the hearts of red-blooded humanity?

While Daft Punk is made up of the humans Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, their albums are presented as music made by machines. As a robot, there is no sense pretending to be human, for one can see right through the perfection of it all. A machine designed to be flawless in calculation will never err, which is why electronic music sometimes turns people off — it’s too “repetitive” i.e. where’s the human-touch? Where is the flaw that I can relate to, as a fellow human?

The perfect response to this is found in their classic single, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”. “Perfect” may seem like too strong of a word, but any dance song which lasts beyond a decade deserves the acclaim. Indeed, the song maintains particular relevance, having been heard by most of the United States after Kanye West sampled the song in his 2007 #1-charting single, “Stronger”. This is a song which repeats four lines for four minutes and by the end, it’s just as much Soul music as it is House. The song gets so heartfelt, but why? What is it that makes it so appealing?

In the beginning of the song, the lyrics are sung crystal-clear — you, as a listener, can make out every word. By the end of the song, however, the track has elevated in pitch and the robots are no longer reciting a programmed phrase — they are singing. Yes, they are singing, because they are making mistakes. There are pauses between phrases — some phrases are not even sung during “Harder, Better…”‘s frantic peak. Those four lines which the song had repeated with reassuring consistence now fade. It’s difficult to make out what’s being said; to decipher it, one has to rely on memory rather than the music itself.

Removing fractions of vocals to give the impression that this “robot singer” is flawed is, in itself, a robotic approach to making soulful music. This is the Daft Punk aesthetic: Music made not just by robots, but by well-intentioned robots; robots aware of, and trying to transcend, their robotic limitations.

So by the end, you’re in awe. What had been promised and laid before you is now gone. You long for when the song’s vocals were simple and robotic, all the while amazed at how these guys might just be humans after all. The last second of the song are two words from the line “Our work is never over” — “Never Over”. These words are sung in the same vocal style which built the song’s groove. It leaves a reminder: This feeling is never over.

Amongst the background noise, the search for something real will rarely yield anything beyond a glimpse. These robots, in all their perfection, found their voice only as the song was coming to an end. What their “voice” translated to was distortion of perfection. The more chopped-up the vocals became, the more it seemed like these robots were capable of empathy. In addition to impeccable production, this is a major reason the song sounds fresh even eleven years after its initial release (March 2001).

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Lyrical Analysis: “Accordion” by Madvillain (MF DOOM + Madlib)

The lyrics can be found here.  Here is the official music video:

Daniel Dumile channels various traits of his personality into several characters.  One character, Viktor Vaughn, embraces a youthful, ambitious side of Dumile.  Another, King Geedorah, represents a colossal alien who commentates on humanity from an objective view-point.  On 2004’s Madvillainy LP, Dumile teamed with Madlib to create a character known to many as “Madvillain” (also referred to as “The Villain”/”Villain” on the recording), and it is in this character why so many have flocked to Dumile’s provocative flow.

In the opening statement of Madvillainy, “Accordion”, we have a chance to meet Madvillain — or at least, we hear a testament to his greatness.  What differentiates Dumile’s braggadocio from his contemporaries is in the nature of said testimony.  The opening narration, “Living off borrowed time the clock tick faster” is entirely detached from the rest of the verse.  The line vaguely contemplates upon the notion of time before sparking inspiration from an observer of said narration.  This is the masked man who tells the tales of the legendary Madvillain — MF DOOM.

Think of MF DOOM, in the context of “Accordion”, as a street poet or preacher upon a soapbox, dazzling the audience with hyperbole-ridden tales of a legend (Madvillain) whom is not even physically present (and indeed, artistically, Dumile literally hides “Madvillain” behind MF DOOM’s mask).  The very next line which follows the opening narration is spoken matter-of-factly, responding to the omniscient narration, as if one was reading a newspaper and remarking indifferently: “that’ll be the hour they knock the sick blaster“.

This line, as soon seen, starts a stream-of-consciousness description of Madvillain as a character.  The reason why this lyricism inspires such originality and thought within the listener is because Daniel Dumile is not the one boasting about Madvillain (at least, directly).  Instead, what Dumile does is create a third-person narrative, using what amounts to a street preacher (MF DOOM) to describe a main character (Madvillain) which personifies certain elements of a real personality (Daniel Dumile).

While “Accordion” is riddled with interpretive poetry, arguably four of the strongest lines are found in the following verse:

Keep your glory gold and glitter
For half, half of his n***** will take him out the picture
The other half is rich and it don’t mean s***-a
Villain a mixture of both with a twist of liquor

In these four lines, Dumile, as MF DOOM, describes Madvillain as someone who is unaffected by promises of monetary gain and illusionary, ‘glittering’ successes.  In the second and third lines, we learn of his rationality for this mindset.  While these lines strike hard just for the discussed content, the final line pulls together the reason why the audience is so captivated by “Accordion”.  “Villain a mixture of both…” is self-loathing and self-inspiring all at once, admitting that Madvillain, as a character (and thus, part of Daniel Dumile), embraces both extremes — “with a twist of liquor”.

While “MF DOOM” is telling of the “Madvillain” character/legend, the fourth line (“Villain a mixture…“) carries the same sort of off-handedness which follows up “Living off borrowed time…” — the opening line of the song.  This alludes a light-hearted glimpse into the actual character of “MF DOOM” (the street-corner poet/preacher), indirectly suggesting the characters within the world of “Madvillainy” see themselves as Madvillain.  Therefore, they view him in a heroic light, and not with the same villainous bent as most of the populous.

See RapGenius’ entry on “Accordion” for a line-by-line interpretation.