ARTIST Major Lazer
ALBUM Free The Universe
LABEL Secretly Canadian
RELEASE DATE 16.4.2013
5.6 | 10
It had to come to an end sometime. Diplo’s string of high quality pop tracks, most notably Usher’s thrilling 2012 single “Climax” and the Nicky Da B featuring “Express Yourself,” was a thing of beauty to behold. Over a year after those tracks left their imprint on pop music, Major Lazer has finally released the much-delayed Free The Universe. Time and time again, the music caters too much to the demographic that springs $1.29 for the next will.i.am production.
Much of the record tries too hard to find its footing in dancehall and reggae, and comes off more like a not-too-elaborate PR move rather than a genuine effort to infiltrate the genre. A lot of the songs here fit on the scale of bad-to-worse, including “Keep Cool,” and “Reach For the Stars.” The former features Wynter Gordon and Shaggy, with neither act warranting the spotlight they are given next to Diplo. Even more puzzling is the latter, as “Stars” features Wyclef Jean trying his best to play the role of motivational speaker. The only motivation he elicits is the need to press the double arrows pointing right.
But that’s not the worst of it; on “Bubble Butt” (yes, that’s a song title), Diplo enlists Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Mystic to absolutely maul the track, a song that might have produced a chuckle had it not been preceded by a handful of headscratchingly banal productions.
Now that we’ve gotten the bad and ugly out of the way, I should mention the good on the record. The opening track, “You’re No Good,” successfully marries a pop hook performed by soon-to-be-it-girl Danielle Haim with a compelling reggae tint. The two best tracks here feature indie music darlings, as Amber Coffman gives you even more reason to love her as she provides her best vocal performance since “Stillness Is the Move” on “Get Free.” The production is the least obnoxious here, allowing Coffman to own the spotlight. Elsewhere, Major Lazer enlists Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig to provide the vocals on “Jessica,” and in much the same style as “Free,” Diplo stays out of the way for the most part, allowing Koenig to find his way to the wonderful melody.
While the worthwhile moments are few and far between, they are certainly worth the listener’s undivided attention. The missteps are far too bountiful to overlook, which makes this such a frustrating listen. Diplo has shown himself capably of creating breathtaking works of art, yet on here he throws that all away for some lukewarm, insipid songs that might reach the desired audience; but in actuality, this album reached its expiration date much earlier than its release date.