I don’t know where we made a wrong turn or who the pipe-wielding asshole who led us astray was, but something went wrong somewhere. Maybe it was when Pitchfork started giving albums 0′s out of 10 or when we as a society decided that taking pop music seriously and blaming it for society’s ills was a worthwhile thing to do but at some point we took music, something that gave us pleasure, and distorted it into a segregative earmarking. What’s worse, we stopped having fun, or rather, we stopped letting ourselves have fun, which is far more dire. We lost our sense of abandon.
Occasionally we are reminded of what we once were, like a housewife looking over shoebox photos of herself with feathered hair, smoking cigarettes in a leather jacket. Major Lazer’s new album Free the Universe is that kind of token. Listening to this 14-track dubsploitation, I’m struggling to remember the last time I had so much fun listening to a record. Maybe the last Major Lazer record?
It’s rife with cameos and collaborations and punctuated with every favela-informed trick in Diplo’s arsenal. And while Diplo never ditches his vain desire for integrity, he doesn’t take himself too seriously either. Sure, “Wind Up” goes nowhere and “Jah No Partial” is an ugly composite of all the worst excesses of dubstep, but they’re not enough to significantly detract from what is otherwise a smooth and very enjoyable ride.
The dynamic of Major Lazer has carried over from 2009′s Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do—the album is a mixtape with a budget. This is despite creative differences seeing “the other MIA collaborator” Switch make his egress, to be replaced by Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. Holding the fort in the vocal booth is a roster of dancehall dignitaries and indie darlings. Santigold, Vybz Kartel, Danielle Haim and Yasmin all make appearances and that’s just on the opening track—”You’re No Good”, a groove more than a song, and a joyous one at that.
Long-time philanderer of roots music Ezra Koenig swings sweetly on “Jessica”. A dub ballad that sounds like a child singing to himself in the playground after listening to an hour of Babylon Burning on PBS. Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors (ugh) wins even me over on “Get Free”, last year’s single that was made to be a crossover before the click-track had even been laid down.
Major Lazer is lauded for the eclecticism of its output, which is bullshit. There’s really only two songs here: the slowed, catchy groove replete with hooks and the dance floor banger with one hook. Entirely fitting for artists who operate in a genre whose detractors most common complaint is that “it all sounds the same” and whose aficionados tout the subtle variations held within each individual track. But the merit of Major Lazer is that it exists in its own sphere, removed far enough from the pontificating of either end of that spectrum. If you forsake your aesthetic sensibilities and your need for an iPod airtight with credibility, you might actually have a good time.