“A @ soundtrack album?”
That’s probably what most Daft Punk fans thought after hearing the news that their beloved electronic gods would be composing the score to a big-budget Disney movie. In a sense, the complaint is justifiable—after releasing only three full-length studio albums over the course of a 13 year career, Daft Punk certainly knows its audience is hungry for the old fashioned goods, and even if the Tron: Legacy soundtrack turned out to be a classic for its genre, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s just simply not a true Daft Punk album. We all know the rub about film scores—even the most thrilling (like Jonny Greenwood’s inventive, breathtaking music for the Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece There Will Be Blood) work best when paired with the visuals for which they were specifically written. It’s possible to produce a soundtrack album that works on its own merits—personally, I wore the hell out of Jon Brion’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind score—but the odds are in no artist’s favor. For Daft Punk, the funky French house duo responsible for some of the decade’s most memorable electronic/pop crossovers (particularly the euphoric “One More Time” and the vocoder-driven, Kanye West-pilfered bricolage “Harder Better Faster Stronger”), the challenge appears even more daunting.
Fortunately Tron:Legacy is, amazingly, the duo’s best work in years, going all the way back to their acclaimed 2001 breakthrough, Discovery. There’s not much point in differentiating the tracks since all 22 pieces flow almost seamlessly with the same textural template: orchestral arrangements (heavy on the woodwinds) augmented with their trademark, gloriously recorded sequenced synthesizers. After a strong orchestral overture and “The Grid,” which features a brooding, corny monologue from the film’s star Jeff Bridges, we’re treated to “The Son of Flynn,” a masterfully brief yet tantalizing synth metropolis. Throughout the album, the marriage of electronics and symphony proves fruitful and surprisingly emotional. On Tron: Legacy, Daft Punk had everything going against them: unrealistically high expectations, the usual soundtrack album trappings, the fact that they might actually be robots. But somehow, they’ve managed to craft a score that actually works on a human level—for a single person, sitting in the dark, headphones on, lost in a world of sound.