The gruelling five years since the success of ‘Lean On’ turned Diplo’s dance music side project Major Lazer into a festival headliner have made the days of 2015 feel like a century ago. 'Music Is The Weapon', the group’s long-promised follow-up to their surprise hit, arrives in a world without festivals or clubs to play their music and a cultural environment which is less tolerant of their westernised take on global dance music.
The deal with Diplo’s past albums was a simple transaction - he offered mainstream exposure for smaller international artists (generally from the Caribbean), while they gave him credibility in return. But in 2020, when non-English speaking artists like BTS and Bad Bunny are leading conversations on the future of pop music on their own terms, that transaction feels increasingly one-sided.
'Music Is The Weapon' continues the kitchen-sink approach of its companion project, 'Peace Is The Mission', by pulling together a grab-bag of artists from around the world. That strategy produces a roll-call of features which pairs promising rising stars, like dancehall artist Shensea, and superstars, such as Nicki Minaj and J Balvin, with oddities like Mumford & Sons’ Marcus Mumford. The result is an uninspired and half-arsed album which lurches from rowdy bangers to bland sentimental pop with no clear through-line.
The album’s softer moments, most notably the anodyne tropical house of ‘Lay Your Head On Me’, are weak attempts at radio fodder, almost willfully devoid of creativity. Its uptempo moments are a more mixed bag. ‘Tiny’ and ‘Que Colar’ are effective, and even likeable, takes on dancehall and reggaeton respectively. But other moments are less successful, such as the risible ‘Jadi Buti’ - which sees Indian singer Rashmeet Kaur chant about weed over an obnoxious Bollywood-esque beat.
Such moments serve to highlight the shallowness of Major Lazer’s blending of styles. Despite the authenticity of their collaborators, the incorporation of international genres is too often played for novelty, or even comedy, rather than as a sincere cultural exchange. It is not necessarily a problem that these songs are shallow and disposable
Major Lazer’s best songs have always acted as overstimulating sugar-rushes - but the formula that was once fresh and boundary-pushing for mainstream pop now sounds outdated. Diplo has suggested that 'Music Is The Weapon' could be the final Major Lazer album and if so, it would be a wise decision. The world has outgrown them.
Words: Conrad Duncan
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