Major Lazer – Free the Universe album review

Repurposing sounds from various cultures has identified Major Lazer and put them in somewhat of an uncategorizable genre of their own. But 4 years after their debut album, Major Lazer has probably become more noted for their nationwide block parties than for their collaborative work, and their most recent album Free the Universe proves that justifiably so, as it is anything but Mad Decent.

The album is distractingly difficult to keep your attention and nearly impossible to get through. And after awaiting a follow up to 2009’s Guns Don’t Kill People–Lazers Do, it’s unfortunate to have to come to terms with the possibility that Major Lazer’s long awaited sophomore album is nothing if not underwhelming. The project is a clear reflection of a lack of creative direction, last minute production team swap (DJs Jillionaire and Walshy Fire have now teamed up with Diplo to replace former producer Switch), an inconsistent concept, and the notion that perhaps all the energy Diplo has amassed during the days of  “Look at Me Now” and “Run the World (Girls)” has long since dissipated when it came time to focus on his own work.

The lack of effort on this album is almost transparent. It is a repetitive medley of assumed island sounds with no real marriage between any of the album’s 14 tracks.  Not much has changed conceptually since the debut album, as Major Lazer still seems pretty adamant about their lazy attempt to recreate dancehall music for the fake-poor hipster (The Dirty Projector’s Amber Coffman is featured on “Get Free” and it don’t get more Brooklyn watering hole than that). But at least we can say Major Lazer knows who their audience is.

The album has more features than when Rick Ross was Deeper Than Rap. But unlike the former, Free the Universe falls short of utilizing these names in a way that adds to any of the songs. The first song “You’re No Good” features Santigold, (or did we mean 2006 Nelly Furtado?) but even throwing Jamaican dancehall heavy hitter Vybz Kartel on the track doesn’t completely save it from sounding too “Promiscuous Girl.” And strange enough, the album just goes downhill from there. It constantly takes abrupt turns and at some point even goes from turnt up to electro-indie. “Get Free” serves as that random stop sign you didn’t see coming and leaves you slamming on your musical brakes. It’s not bad. But Amber Coffman’s vocals never sounded so hard on the ears. Overtly stereotypical island lyrics and song titles are distracting (ie: “Jah No Partial”, “Bumaye,” really?), and songs like “Jessica” rely heavily on gentle reggae and doo-wop cadences that you can catch in any one of Bruno Mars’ misappropriated songs.

4 years should have left Major Lazer enough time to cultivate some ideas. All we can hope is that in the music to come they find some creative direction, get some inspiration and not rely so heavily on what they’ve already done in the past. And for the record: Give the dancehall a rest.

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