With a real name that sounds like that of a civil war general or Baptist missionary, you can see why Thomas Wesley decided to instead become the mononymous Diplo for his 15-years-and-counting of world-dominating horny EDM bangers and glossy production work with everyone from MIA to Madonna. Yet there’s something about ‘Thomas Wesley’ that seems perfect for blasting up in lights down on Nashville’s Broadway, and so for his first country-inspired collection Diplo has ditched the pseudonym – which came from a childhood love of dinosaurs, specifically the Diplodocus – and gone back to his roots.
Ever the musical magpie, Diplo’s most defining moments have come from dipping into Jamaican dancehall and Brazilian baile-funk, so it comes as no surprise that the 41-year-old is investigating charters new. Yet it seems strange – or perhaps extremely self-aware – for him to call his first full country music release ‘Snake Oil’, an old-school euphemism for deceptive marketing, based on the 19th century bullshitters who would trawl the Old West selling bottles of nothing masquerading as a cure-all medicine.
That’s because at its heart, this isn’t a country album at all; rather it’s an excuse for Diplo to wear some razzle-dazzle Nudie Cohn-style suits and fancy cowboy hats. If you hadn’t seen recent the rhinestone-studded photoshoots and his buddying up with contemporary country’s masked man Orville Peck – who opens the album on the spoken-word ‘Intro’ – then it’s pretty hard to separate this ‘new’ sound from the poppy likes of his 2018 Mark Ronson and Dua Lipa team-up ‘Electricity’.
The Jonas Brothers-featuring ‘Lonely’ is a case in point – it’s a synthy, auto-tune bop that has more in common with a Justin Bieber tropical-house off-cut from 2015 than a softly strummed Willie Nelson love song. Despite featuring contemporary country singer Thomas Rhett on lead vocals and guest bars from Young Thug, ‘Dance With Me’ still feels more Ed Sheeran than Waylon Jennings. If you’re after decent dancefloor fodder, though, Diplo is no slouch, bringing in the low-key vocals of Julia Michaels – who continues to be the greatest modern pop star you’ve never heard of – to the tender ‘Real Life Stuff’ and a moody remix of ‘Heartless’, a hit for Diplo and country star Morgan Wallen last year.
But when Diplo does lean fully into the country sound – which he does less than you would expect for album selling itself on its Americana attitude – as on the Blanco Brown-featuring ‘Do Si Do’, it’s nothing more than a flaky rerun of Kesha and Pitbull’s aggressively addictive 2013 hit ‘Timber’, while the Noah Cyrus-featuring ‘On Mine’ is like a ‘Red’-era Taylor Swift ballad that didn’t quite make the final cut. Turns out Thomas Wesley really is just Diplo having a laugh in the dressing-up cupboard – nothing more.
Release date: May 29
Record label: RCA