The Old West seems to be en vogue right now, with a global collection of musicians and visual artists overhauling the period’s aesthetic and mythology to invert the shadow of Manifest Destiny, offering new pathways through one of America’s core creation myths.
Part of what makes this Yeehaw Agenda so effective, though, is it’s ability to open out the narrative of the American West, finding room to include African American and LGBTQ+ voices to playfully update those core aesthetics. Think the irresistible daring of Lil Nas X or the beautiful musicality or Solange or the riveting melodrama of Orville Peck. What it doesn’t need, then, is an EDM bro slapping on a stetson and spoiling everyone’s barn dance.
That’s exactly what where get on the snappily named ‘Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley Chapter 1: Snake Oil’ however, when the arch bandwagon-jumper hitches up his mare and heads West, with often tragic results.
Sharpshooter Diplo seems to be aiming at a Venn diagram built between slick country-pop, trap beats, and electronic production, while somehow missing the mark by a considerable distance on each of those targets. More Kid Rock than Billy The Kid, it’s a slick but anonymous record, one dotted with moments of appalling crossover misfires.
There’s the earnest but empty ballad ‘Heartbreak’, slathered in horrendous, sickly hi-definition arena-level pyrotechnics, or the simplistic ‘Real Life Stuff’. ‘Lonely’ fails to connect, but that’s nothing next to the just-plain-weird ‘Do Si Do’.
Part of the problem is that Diplo has never done subtlety. He’s in his element when blasting vuvuzelas onstage, working with cliff-edge drops and acres of bass frequencies. Out on the open plains of songwriting he often feels lost, resulting in some startling lyrical simplicity. Indeed, it’s an album with two settings: whiskey-laden party-time and heartbreak, a pastiche of a pastiche that never truly connects.
It is mercifully short, however, finishing with two remixes: another look at his own ‘Heartbreak’ and the 2157th take on ‘Old Town Road’.
A record that aims for a triumphant shoot out but only fires blanks, it just goes to show that you can stick a saddle on any old mustang, but that doesn’t make it a racehorse.
Words: Robin Murray
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