Bummed out by the endless winter? Diplo and pals bring the sunshine
Britain may be currently enduring a winter of Narnia-like duration and bitterness, but there is a cure for chronic SAD that doesn’t involve buying a weird bedside lamp that tricks your sleeping carcass into thinking it’s lazing by the pool in Ibiza. That cure is Major Lazer’s second album, ‘Free The Universe’, which comes with 14 hits of Vitamin D-boosting dancehall daftness.
The album follows 2009’s ‘Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do’, a record that put Major Lazer on the radar of Beyoncé, Snoop Dogg and No Doubt, all of whom came in search of a little faux-Jamaican magic for their own music. Yet as their star ascended, Major Lazer fell apart, and ‘Free The Universe’ is the first to feature Diplo, but not Switch. The latter left in 2011 citing the classic “creative differences”, leaving 34-year-old Diplo as the sole custodian of this trippy, Jamaican carnival of a project.
The shift in personnel doesn’t seem to matter too much though. Supply Major Lazer’s beats, production and pop chops he might, but Diplo is a faceless presence in this project. Instead it’s presented as the fictional Major Lazer, a Jamaican commando and all-round mean mother with a machine-gun arm. He could, quite comfortably, be found cracking skulls in vintage video game Streets Of Rage.
So Major Lazer is, essentially, Gorillaz without the pretence. But more so than Gorillaz, it’s a project that succeeds or fails on the quality of its guest stars. When Diplo calls, people answer, so here we have Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on the sun-kissed ‘Jessica’, and a rag-tag mix of blogger favourites and novelty pop stars elsewhere. ‘Keep Cool’ sees a guest appearance from Mr Boombastic himself, Shaggy, and Wyclef Jean, Peaches and Santigold can be spotted if you’re listening closely.
Last year’s gently throbbing and effortlessly brilliant single ‘Get Free’, featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, is the album’s high point. But there’s plenty elsewhere to make you smile, whether it’s the manic chipmunk voice repeating “can’t stop” on ‘Jet Blue Jet’, the hyperactive electropop of ‘Scare Me’, or the album’s most annoying song, ‘Bubble Butt’, that finds great joy in repeating the words “bubble butt” a mind-bending number of times.
Listening to ‘Free The Universe’ as a whole feels like accidentally tuning in to a great pirate radio station, but without the background whispers of Radio 4 poking through. It’s eclectic, but the linking thread is insistent dancehall beats and a sense of dumb, colourful fun. It’s not an album to sit around and ponder the lyrics of (if you can find hidden meaning in ‘Bubble Butt’, please do write in), it’s just an hour of instant sunshine.