Daft Punk's "Steam Machine" isn't especially sugary or sweet as love songs go, but it's a love song nonetheless. Over a brash beat and recoiling ray-gun spray, one of the duo's maestros doffs his robot mask and lays his hissy human voice bare. His words don't stray from the two in the song title, but the way he says themgasping for air, drunk on sibilanceproves more sensuous than sinister. It's the sound of a body mesmerized by its own mechanization.
Like most of the songs on Human After All, "Steam Machine" is raw and decidedly primitive, a surprising tack for a dance act whose 2001 album Discovery played like an epic space opera. Human's first single, "Robot Rock," signals the tone with a plodding beat and vocodered voices that sound distracted by something outside the studio; it goes out of its way to go nowhere. The tight-rein pull works on the album-opening title track, whose proggy synth riffs bleed through the paper they were sketched on, but on the whole, Human sounds guided by instructions as much as inspiration. Some of those instructions are set to stun: "The Brainwasher" and "Technologic" are as dirty and dancey as anything Daft Punk has spewed forth, bashing through fits of noisy agitation and straitjacket funk. More rounded tracks like "The Prime Time Of Your Life" take circuitous routes through new and different rhythms, working a skulky shuffle-beat into a stomping lather.
But the album-ender "Emotion" is more typical. Its lighter-waving sentiment sounds strangely ambivalent about the emotional heft it eulogizes and laughs down in equal measure. Daft Punk has always played hide-and-seek with such impulses, but Human sounds like a curiously anticlimactic reveal, especially from a duo whose mantle has been rattled by would-be heirs like Tiefschwarz, Black Strobe, and Alter Ego. Daft Punk still comes off like a pair of robots ready to blast open the doors of any club that would lock them out, but they sound less than sure of what to do once they're inside.