On their debut album, Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do, Diplo and Switch of Major Lazer took Jamaican dancehall as a starting point and had a blast messing with its DNA. On the party-starter “Pon De Floor,” they all but created a new genre, fusing dancehall, military drum tattoos and hip-hop into a crazed floorfiller that was sampled by everyone from Beyonce to Nicola Roberts. The big change with Free The Universe is the absence of Dave “Switch” Taylor, Diplo’s long-time collaborator. Diplo has said, “In terms of actually making records and finishing them, Switch doesn’t do that. He just can’t finish songs.” So Diplo called for help. And, boy, did he get it.
On Free The Universe something strange has happened. What seemed like an off-the-wall dancehall collaboration in 2009 has turned into something far poppier, featuring an unlikely line-up of guests including Shaggy, Wyclef, Peaches, Ezra Koening of Vampire Weekend and even Bruno Mars. Yet it still has that oddball edge that follows Diplo’s productions around like a lost puppy. The album’s real turn-up is the brilliant “Get Free,” featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors — exhilarating pop that has the faintest whiff of the Art Of Noise about it.
On “Jah No Partial,” chart parvenus Flux Pavilion adds grimy drops to the boombastic dancehall. Peaches and Timberlee come on like a demented Shampoo on “Scare Me.” There is a brush with EDM on “Sweat,” where Dutch house don Laidback Luke creates a caustic soundbed for Ms Dynamite to deliver a minimalist sermon. And there are some killer rumpshakers in “Wind Up” and the brilliant paean to the shapelier derrière “Bubble Butt.”
Diplo has long been an innovator in his production work for the likes of Santigold and Azealia Banks, but here he brings that pop sensibility back to his own eccentric rhythmic dalliances. Ground control to Major Lazer: Check ignition. Blast off.