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Dec 09

DAFT PUNK – “One More Time”

FT9 comments • 1,303 views

(This review, of my favourite song of the decade, was originally written for The Pitchfork 500, which I recommend you own a copy of. Oh, and happy 2010!)

It’s one of the most basic metaphysical questions, phrasable in a hundred different ways – without evil, how can we know what good is? Without darkness, can we truly appreciate light? Without a breakdown, how can we throw our hands in the air when the DJ brings the beat back? Daft Punk’s “One More Time” is therefore more than a French house track with a really, really long middle bit – it’s a philosophical meditation on the nature of human suffering and redemption. Performed by two guys in robot masks.

By the time Daft Punk dropped their second album, Discovery, the French dance scene was dominated by the filter disco sound – woozy disco and funk samples looped over chewy house beats. At its best it was the sound of almost tangible yearning, the release of disco heartbreakingly deferred. At worst it was joyless and lazy. Discovery‘s melting pot of cybernetic balladry, soft rock, electro and house was a way out of the filter-disco impasse – but lead single “One More Time”, built on a clipped and phased horn sample, is also a supreme example of the style.

So the message of “One More Time” – let’s defy our exhaustion, let’s keep dancing that little bit longer – is mirrored in its form: pulling out the old tricks for the last time. It’s also reflected in the way guest singer Romanthony’s voice is bent and treated so that he sounds out of breath, fiercely pushing himself on. As long as the beat gives him strength, he and the crowd can keep going. But then the beat stops.

The breakdown in “One More Time” is, as mentioned, very long indeed. Over soft keyboard washes Romanthony pleads in a series of shattered gasps – “Celebrate…don’t wait too late…no…you can’t stop…one more time”. He sounds like he’s praying – it’s a starkly intimate moment.

The power of this song is that it’s a dance track that’s extremely hard to dance to. When the beat collapses, what can you do? You can beg along with Romanthony, look at other dancers, stand with arms outstretched, give up entirely. Whichever you choose you can’t help but feel uncomfortable, physically exposed – Romanthony’s desperate need becomes yours too.

And just as you think – even if you’ve heard the track a hundred times – that maybe the beat won’t return, it does, and with an exultant shout of “One more time!” the party is saved (and so are we).

Comments

  1. 1
    Brian on 1 Jan 2010 #

    One of my favorite blurbs in the P4K book. Thanks for posting it! Happy new year!

  2. 2
    swanstep on 3 Jan 2010 #

    it’s a philosophical meditation on the nature of human suffering and redemption
    Good god. Here are the lyrics:
    One more time
    One more time
    [One more time we're gonna celebrate
    Oh yeah all right don´t stop the dancing]x6
    One more time
    You know I’m just feeling
    Celebration
    Tonight
    Celebrate
    Don’t wait too late
    You know
    You don’t stop
    You can’t stop
    We’re gonna celebrate
    One more time
    One more time
    One more time
    Celebration
    You know we’re gonna do it right
    Tonight
    Hey
    Just feeling
    Music’s got me feeling the need
    Need
    Yeah
    Come on all right
    We’re gonna celebrate
    [One more time
    Music's got me feeling so free
    We're gonna celebrate
    Celebrate and dance so free]x11

    There’s barely half an idea there, let alone any attempt to meditate on anything, explore lines of reasoning, and so on.

    And theme and variation, and ABA song structure (which One More Time stretches out) has nothing to do with ‘metaphysics of evil’ stuff. Sorry, this is a dreadful piece, way below Tom’s usual standard.

    As for the song… I thought it was the 3rd or 4th best track on Discovery, which was a pretty good album. It’s a fun track, the bass drum is distinctively late, which shouldn’t work but does, which I like, but there’s just not enough to the track either musically or lyrically for it to be really exciting, certainly not in the conceptual way that Tom describes. Put another way, I don’t think it’s a patch in general joyfulness terms on Kool and the Gang’s Celebration (which it slightly resembles), and frankly *that* would be an odd choice for fave of its decade. It’s not really a contender, and I’d say the same thing about One More Time.

  3. 3
    will on 3 Jan 2010 #

    Great pop track but not one that works on a dancefloor. I’ve tried playing it out on more than one occasion and people just flail around during the long breakdown looking as if they’re not…really…sure what they’re supposed to do.

  4. 4
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 3 Jan 2010 #

    silly swanstep:

    A: “people just flail around during the long breakdown looking as if they’re not…really…sure what they’re supposed to do” = suffering
    B: “just as you think… that maybe the beat won’t return, it does” = redemption
    C: a meditation = exploration WITHOUT WORDS, so posting up the lyrics gives less than half the story
    D: form follows function = the track is about nothing if not rhythmic teasing, hence the review teases the (over-serious) reader

  5. 5
    swanstep on 8 Jan 2010 #

    @tanned rested…: OK, maybe I took the original write-up too seriously, but this labelling of things as ‘suffering’, ‘redemption’, and so on seems utterly fanciful to me.

    There are plenty of great songs over the years that have wandered off into a long B or C section. One can, if one likes describe any song with that sort of structure as a ‘philosophical meditation on suffering and redemption’, i.e., because of the anticipation built into that long B or C section, but honestly what would be the point of doing so? Classic example: Doors, Light my fire. It vamps forever on a couple of chords lifted from Coltrane’s version of ‘My favorite things’, before finally coming back to that bizarre, Bach-like opening flourish and only then launching us into another Morrison verse and Chorus. (It’s crazy, wonderful stuff – nothing else has ever sounded like it.) One could always describe Light my Fire as a ‘philosophical meditation on suffering and redemption’ because of that vamping/Coltrane section, but it’s hard to see what that would really illuminate. But maybe I’m just not following something here.

  6. 6
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 8 Jan 2010 #

    Well, I’d say suffering-redemption was a pretty basic lyrical trope in TONS of disco — and what’s significant about that is that it’s simultaneously a SILLY AND JOKEY reference to gospel and religion and seeing the light, orgasm as divine revelation etc and of course at the same UTTERLY SERIOUS:. It means tension-release but it acknowledges it in the context of a lifestyle choice that’s at once perilous and urgent and serious about pleasure — “last night a DJ saved my life”

    So I think Tom’s write up catches this sensibility and transfers the metaphor to a dance track that doesn’t explicit riff off evangelical lyrical tropes very neatly — camp as a mask for currently impossible seriousness; teasing co-option as a means of liberation etc…

  7. 7
    Tim on 8 Jan 2010 #

    Swanstep: in “Light My fire” isn’t the “vamping” you talk about more to di with continuation than disruption? If you are happily grooving to “OMT” and that distended breakdown arrives, it’s not easy to know what to do; if you’re groovin’ to “LMF” you can keep groovin’ right on through the whole of the vampy jam, can’t you? The vamping surely resolves when the opening keyboard figure comes back but it’s not such a relief, is it?

  8. 8
    Chris on 8 Jan 2010 #

    That’s awesome, Daft Punk are amazing. They feature in this top albums of the decade here http://bit.ly/5O0RYX

  9. 9
    swanstep on 8 Jan 2010 #

    @Tim. Nice try, but I don’t myself think that there’s a huge difference a B or C section that jams on a drone, as it were, before getting back to the interesting stuff, and a section that scats around without much of a beat for the same period. The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again more or less breaks down to that synth/organ figure for an ungodly length of time before the song explodes back to life. That case kind of splits the difference between OMT and LMF, and suggests to me that there’s really no real difference to speak of. Rather, this is the same basic trick being worked in different ways.

    @Tanned and rested…: I certainly love all the orgiastic/ecstatic side of dance music you emphasize, but I can’t say that for me OMT sucessfully plugs into that at all! I like Daft Punk quite a lot but this was a track I’d always skip over (after a few listens) on Discovery because it was too boring. Forget all your suffering and redemption, what OMT really suggests is the classic, unflattering take on a lot of indifferent dance/techno music – it’s like listening to a washing machine. In OMT we seem to be stuck on a wash cycle forever, then we sit there on soak for ungodly long, then the wash cycle starts up again. One More Load.

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