(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).