With all the Covid-induced travel restrictions, it is fitting that Diplo resigned himself to a bit of domestic tourism; earlier this year, he stormed Nashville with the release of his country album Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley, Chapter 1: Snake Oil, his bid to recast himself as a Red Dead Redemption character. Now, with the release of Music is the Weapon, he formally reasserts himself as the swashbuckling, globetrotting hub around which Major Lazer’s revolving door of producers spins. Featuring artists from five continents—from Delhi to Santiago—the album sells itself as a festive, multicultural cornucopia of club music. Rather, it systematically shoehorns dancehall, baile funk, dembow, and other upbeat styles into rigid pop structures (songs range in length from 2:25 to 3:22) in a manner that captures none of the vision or chaotic energy of Major Lazer’s original experiments, which combined violently throbbing and wobbling EDM textures with the musical traditions of Jamaica. With Music is the Weapon, Diplo and co. take an algorithmic and outdated approach to the flourishing international pop ecosystem they helped build.
Major Lazer started teasing Music is the Weapon before they released its companion album, Peace is the Mission, in 2015, and a handful of its songs carry the sterilized whiff of tropical house, which began to crest in popularity during that period. The leadoff track “Hell and High Water,” with Alessia Cara, launches into each chorus with a vigorous timbale fill; “Trigger,” with Khalid, is a limp ballad anchored vaguely by marimba. “Lay Your Head On Me,” with Marcus Mumford, is a dry rehash of Avicii’s 2013 country-EDM smash “Wake Me Up.” While Diplo has a strong track record of working with rappers, (see: “Bubble Butt,” “Night Riders,” “Express Yourself”) contributions from French Montana and Nicki Minaj feel tacked on. The album’s most satisfying hip hop moment—or any moment—comes on the joyous finale “Que Calor,” in which J Balvin and El Alfa float over the same warbling flute Timbaland repurposed on “Indian Flute.”
Music is the Weapon is a stale, mixed bag that aspires to the global ubiquity and incredible commercial success of Major Lazer’s 2015 spastic moombahton anthem “Lean On,” which went #1 in well over a dozen countries. It’s a soundtrack to a Full Moon Party, an album that wants to bring the people of the world together, even if it means catering to the lowest common denominator.