Anna Norbury gives Major Lazer’s latest offering 2 stars
Major Lazer is the side project the American DJ and producer Diplo and his production and DJ helpers Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. Major Lazer’s first album, Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do, released in 2009, peaked at number 7 in the US electronic music charts and, like Free the Universe, features Jamaican dancehall artists on practically every track. The first album has a distinctly reggae/dancehall feel, yet Diplo has said about the group’s process: “What we do as Major Lazer, we just incorporate everything. We’re just DJs at heart and selectors. We love all kinds of music.” Unfortunately, this all-embracing, utopian musical vision does not translate successfully onto the tracks on Major Lazer’s second album, which I thought was, overall, more than a little disappointing.
Even with the help of his countless Caribbean collaborators, heard on every track, Major Lazer manage this stylistic fusion pretty badly. Beats, riffs and samples are mostly generic, uninvetive, lazily produced; relying far too heavily on the (oh-so-misguided) assumption that the tracks will be successful because of the calibre of the artists providing the guest vocals.
Take the first track on the album, ‘You’re No Good (feat. Santigold, Vybz Kartel, Danielle Haim & Yasmin)’. It’s a downbeat song, pretty much impossible to dance to and yet with far too brash and heavy a bass and drumbeat to be relaxing or mellow. It beats me why Major Lazer would procure Vybz Kartel, dancehall king, to collaborate on such a track. Shame it’s not the only whingeing yet bizarrely heavyweight track on the album. ‘Keep Cool (feat. Shaggy & Wynter Gordon)’ is just as bad, fusing a quasi-dubstep drum feel with an almost embarrassing and totally redundant cameo from Shaggy. ‘Scare Me’ has a bassline so similar to The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ that I wouldn’t be surprised if they filed a lawsuit against Diplo and friends, coupled with trite, irritating vocals. There are also blatant examples of self-plagiarism in ‘Wind Up’; it’s essentially a far less successful version of their 2009 single ‘Pon De Floor’.
It’s not all bad though; the single ‘Get Free (feat. Amber Coffman) ‘is pleasantly mellow, atmospheric yet slightly unusual. Skream’s remix of ‘Jah No Partial’ (included in the album) is gloriously bass-heavy, and will undoubtedly work very well on the dancefloor. It’s far better than the original Major Lazer/Flux Pavillion version, which uncomfortably fuses breakbeat rhythms with the kind of brash, screamo dubstep that should be left on the UKF channel. For me, the most successful track on the album by far is ‘Watch Out For This (Bumaye)’, which fuses infectious dancehall and moombahton riddims with latin-inspired horns. Properly rousing vocals are provided by Busy Signal.
Overall, however, this album does not hang together; some of the tracks are disappointing, most are average and the fusion of styles is mostly achieved badly, making for a fairly disparate listen even despite the almost continuous patois vocals. This time, Diplo’s all-embracing attitude has not been put well into practice.