What we have here is an event album. That is, the album itself, the artist behind the album and its surrounding circumstances impact the record. They shouldn’t, as every album should, in theory, be evaluated by its own merit, free of any outside detail. But sometimes they do. With Daft Punk and its album Tron: Legacy, the soundtrack to the sure-to-be retina-frying titular film, this is most assuredly the case.
First, you have the artist. The robot suit-wearing French Duo known for making and popularizing electronica/house-infused pop have returned after a five-and-a-half year absence. Pretty much anything they do is an event – they are a brand, after all, both aurally and visually – so this album is guaranteed to be follow suit. Next, you have the score to what is the most anticipated film of the entire year by a rather wide margin. (So, of course, the copy of the album I “received” was a watermarked, stream-only version.) Everything has to be *just right* in order for this music to have any impact either inside or outside of the film it accompanies.
I suppose, then, I should not be surprised (and neither should you) to discover that a Daft Punk film score is mostly what I had anticipated: Daft Punk taking its admittedly digitally-based personality and injecting it into an admittedly digitally-based film. Simply put, it’s a perfect fit for two purported robots to score a film about virtual reality because Daft Punk are virtual reality. Of the 22 (!) tracks here (24 if you pre-ordered in iTunes), the majority are exactly what you’d expect them to sound like. That is to say, it’s Daft Punk being Daft Punk, albeit in a condensed form and given a grayscale palate to paint with. Imagine ‘Aerodynamic’ if it were written not to bring joy to the world via dance, but instead to color a cold, cynical view on life. In other words, a world based on computers - that’s the off-kilter, computer-blip noisefest called ’Derezzed.’ You can still dance to it, sure, but you do it because you feel compelled to, and not because you want to.
When Daft Punk veer from their comfort zone, Legacy goes from being merely a great score to a fantastic one. ‘Recognizer,’ for example, begins with a sprinting orchestral arrangement that meets and unifies with a synth wave. The explosive background horn section of the orchestra lifts from Zack Hemsey’s ‘Mind Heist’ but the difference is that Daft Punk go one step further with it. It only starts on the ground; half way through the song takes flight as the orchestra gains control back and soars above its original form. Elsewhere, ‘Adagio for Tron’ is the closest they’ve come to the classic score. Elegant orchestrations (with a seedy underbelly) gently sway back and forth over a computerized undercurrent. The song’s clearly meant to give create a subterfuge of safety. At the midpoint it suddenly becomes claustrophobic. The pace quickens – as does your pulse - and then, after you realize you were running from nothing, the song once again reverts back to its uneasy oscillation. You’re left thinking, “It wasn’t real, was it?”
Which is why this score is so damn sexy. It’s Daft Punk being serious for the first time. Maybe they had fun making this, maybe lots of fun. And it’s a joy to listen to. But that’s because it’s so effective as a serious backdrop to a serious film. Tron: Legacy is the sound of Daft Punk at play and sounding like they aren’t. In this way, the score, much like the idea of virtual reality, is paradoxical in nature, and it’s this paradox that makes it so exciting.