The French electronic duo’s fourth and ultimately final studio album effectively paid tribute to the classic R&B/funk music of the 1970s & 80s, with key contributions from Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes and Chic frontman Nile Rodgers elevating it to the top of their discography.
Unlike their prior studio album Human After All (2005), Random Access Memories primarily features live instrumentation expertly performed by session musicians such as drummer Omar Hakeem (David Bowie, Miles Davis) and guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. (Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston).
Random Access Memories swept the 2014 Grammy Awards, winning Album of the Year, Best Dance/Electronica Album, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. I can certainly attest that the hit single “Get Lucky” – featuring guitar and vocal contributions from Rodgers and Williams, respectively – was inescapable through the mid-2010s and remains a radio staple.
Random Access Memories has undoubtedly appeared on many immersive music fans’ wishlists since it debuted in 2013, and the new Dolby Atmos mix – created as part of celebrations surrounding the album’s tenth anniversary – doesn’t disappoint.
“Give Life Back To Music” kicks things off with a bang, as synthesizers swirl all around and above the listening space. The rhythm section is largely kept within the front channels – and I was pleased to find that the album’s reference-quality low-end hasn’t been diminished at all in the new Atmos mix – while ancillary elements like rhythm guitar, handclaps, processed vocals, and other sound effects are parsed into the expanded soundfield.
The ethereal “The Game Of Love” is among the many highlights of the Atmos presentation, with the Fender Rhodes and choppy guitar patterns gently floating above and behind the main listening position. Dry lead vocals are almost entirely isolated in the center speaker, with reverbs and delays hitting off the height array.
“Giorgio By Moroder” – the band's ode to the oft-named "father of disco" – makes exciting use of the extended soundscape as well, with the synth melody almost entirely panned to the side speakers while turntable scratches pop up in the rear surround and string flourishes swell from above. “Within” then marks a return to the meditative, ethereal vibe of “The Game Of Love” with the vocoder-processed lead vocals again isolated to the center channel.
Credits for the Dolby Atmos remix appear to be unavailable at this time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if original mixing engineer Mick Guzauski (Chuck Mangione, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, etc) was responsible. Guzauski remixed a number of classic albums in 5.1 surround sound throughout the early-2000s, including Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974) and Derek & The Dominos’ Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970).
Perhaps my favorite track on the album, “Lose Yourself To Dance,” is particularly entertaining in Atmos with the processed “c’mon, c’mon” vocals swirling around the height speakers while Rodgers’ guitar appears directly behind your head.
The creator(s) of the Dolby Atmos mix opted for a more conservative presentation with the massive hit “Get Lucky,” as the extra speakers seem to be used primarily for handclaps and processed vocals. That said, Pharrell Williams’ multi-tracked vocals in the pre-chorus do envelop you from the side speakers while Rodgers’ guitar seems to extend slightly beyond the front soundstage.
The Steely Dan-esque “Fragments Of Time” – featuring lead vocals from Todd Edwards – again showcases the Fender Rhodes largely from behind, with guitar highlights and swirling synths in the top speakers. An early ‘scratch’ version of that song has also been mixed in Dolby Atmos and included in the 10th anniversary digital edition as a bonus track, offering listeners an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at how it came together.
As is always the case when new Dolby Atmos mixes of this caliber appear on the streaming services, one can’t help but lament the lack of high-resolution release via download or Blu-Ray disc. The Atmos mix as heard on Apple Music does admittedly sound pretty great, with few noticeable lossy compression artifacts in the rear and height speakers, but a lossless Dolby TrueHD presentation would undoubtedly improve the experience for audiophiles. After all, Random Access Memories is among the few audiophile touchstone albums of the post-millennium.