Daft Punk’s ‘Homework’ shattered expectations

France's finest robots first album turns 20 this year. We revisit the 1997 classic here.

January 27, 2017

Look, I get it. Pointing out that some beloved album or film is now a certain number of decades old is a concept as old as the internet itself, designed to provide the user with a few moments of fond recollection that quickly turns bittersweet as they are reminded of their own mortality and the ever-approaching embrace of sweet, sweet death.

But it also presents an opportunity. You know, beyond crass consumerism. An opportunity to go back and re-examine with a fresh set of eyes or ears a work that has become ubiquitous, but was once new and exciting. And 1997 was a particularly interesting time for pop music, as the Nirvana-led grunge revolution that had wiped away what was previously trendy like a distorted electromagnetic pulse had mostly run its course, leaving the door open for a disparate variety of new artists to rise to the occasion and put out work that nerds with too much time on their hands would still be discussing 20 years later. This year we’ll be taking a look at 12 of these albums. Starting with this one.

Daft Punk – Homework

Although electronic music already had a long and illustrious history by the time 1997 rolled around, most everyone’s perception of it on a mainstream level at that time was, except for a few interesting exceptions, mostly euro-trance fluff like “What is Love” or “I Like to Move It.” In other words, it wasn’t broadly perceived as something that could amount to much more than a vaguely enjoyable, somewhat obnoxious pop niche that was mostly enjoyed while blasted from some shitty arena speakers during breaks in play at sporting events. This not-particularly-friendly climate makes Daft Punk’s game-changing debut L.P. all the more remarkable, as the French duo proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that electronic music could be simultaneously fun, interesting, and accessible. In other words, it wasn’t simply a quaint niche in the mainstream, it was the mainstream.

Combining elements of French house music with funk, disco, rock, and whatever else they managed to pull out of their seemingly endless repertoire of samples, Homework was released on January 20th 1997 to favourable, if relatively underwhelming reviews. Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+ and called it “ideal disco for androids.” NME’s guarded review gave it a 7/10 and said that the duo “held back from any truly mindwarping techno assaults” but ultimately produced “a mighty mash-up of a debut which radically redefines France’s pop credentials.”

Although it was mostly praised, in hindsight it certainly seems like much of the initial critical reaction to Homework really did miss the mark about the kind of impact the record would have on the fabric of pop culture. The album didn’t exactly light the world on fire in the way one might expect – it peaked at 150 on the Billboard 200 – but it was a definite success, moving ~250,000 units worldwide in its year of release. But like most paradigm-shifting works, its influence was felt more in the years and decades following, as the ripples generated from its release reverberated throughout the following generation of artists and producers.

There’s no shortage of great tracks on Homework, but it has reached iconic status based mainly on the strength of its two standout singles, “Da Funk” and “Around the World.” Although sonically different, both songs are based around the very simple concept of taking a powerful, impossibly-catchy hook and repeating it until it has wormed its way directly into your very soul. Daft Punk also displayed a keen eye when it came to choosing their collaborators in expressing their visual identity, hooking up with two of the most visionary music video directors in the history of the medium, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, respectively.

The “Punk” part of the Daft Punk might seem like sacrilege to the patches and safety-pin set, but as it’s a word usually used to describe a form of music that was created in spite of the prevailing popular artistic attitudes of the time, in this case it couldn’t be more apt. With Homework, the duo shattered prevailing notions of what electronic music – or pop music – could sound like, and have since surfed its wave of success to a position as industry vanguards, scoring big Hollywood movies, providing the backing track to chart-topping, genre-bending hip hop singles, and even subverting the very tropes they helped define with their hugely successful analog effort Random Access Memories in 2013. They even managed to piss off some future alternate-fact spewing Washington power players – perhaps their punkest move yet.

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