Yeah, RAM is most certainly not difficult in any aural sense, particularly when compared to Shaking the Habitual (how more of a “difficult” title is it possible to use) or Yeezus. The terminology typically used for the music further elaborates on this: “easy” listening, “soft” rock. Though I do think that Daft Punk were trying to say something very different on this album, both from what they’ve said before, and from what they see everyone else saying in mainstream dance music nowadays. I think that’s what Thomas Bangalter evoked when he told Simon Reynolds ”it’s like we’re running on a highway going the opposite direction to everybody else.” Aurally, the music is very smooth, but conceptually, it’s meant to be challenging—of course, within their chosen framework, and their idea of what a 2013 EDM audience wants. Seems to me they chose to highlight “live” musicianship and artists from their past as a pushback to the prevailing computer-animated forward-rush of EDM (which of course, they themselves helped create).
Of course, explicitly citing sources is nothing new for Daft Punk, but the explicitness of how they’re doing it for this album (granting several major interviews to Pitchfork, the NYT, Rolling Stone), a massive press campaign featuring interviews with Moroder, Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams) seems to me directly aimed at their audience’s tastes. This is particularly aimed, I would suspect, toward the younger members of their audience, for whom the 2006-07 tour and Human After All feel like the British Invasion for current EDM. Again, this is totally speculative, but how did kids who love Skrillex and Guetta respond to “Fragments of Time,” “Giorgio by Moroder,” or “Touch,” or the fact that there’s nothing here aside from “Get Lucky” that sounds anything like “One More Time” or That One Song That Kanye Used? This is a brash generalization, but I think it’s what Daft Punk intended, and artistic intent provides the thrust of Marcus’s argument. In its own way, to its own audience, RAM is as pedagogical as Habitual—forget what you know, learn this.
This is also what I mean by “political.” It’s not (only) a word to describe taking a recognizable stance on a particular issue, the way the Knife and Kanye do vis-a-vis gender, race, and so forth, but in the broader scheme of things, a description of contestations over power. For Daft Punk, it seems clear to me that while the music is very easy to like, that it sounds nothing like the sort of dance music that’s on the radio right now, or that young EDM fans are downloading. That’s a power move, which makes it political. They’re already coming from a position of some influence, and they’re actually being quite conservative about it from a musical perspective, so it’s not a radical move like Habitual, or a dissonant one like Yeezus, but it is political, inasmuch as they understand what their audience wants and they give them something a bit outside of that, which is how I interpret Marcus in that quote (though of course Mystery Train is about what it means to be American, not French, and certainly not robots). They could have just released another Discovery, you know?