If this seems like a poorly thought out response, fair enough. It’s been a week.
This album is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for from this project, like A Walking Fire was for you. It strikes me as something that’s as central to your sensibility as a music fan as Brooklyn Rider is to mine — which means that Guns Don’t Kill People was always going to be a tough sell for me. I have some problems with this album, but I’m intrigued.
I’m definitely not the right person to attempt to parse the probably somewhat problematic cultural appropriation on this album. (I fully acknowledge my cowardice.) But I can certainly understand your preference for this over an album full of ‘bass drops and white people.’ That sounds terrible. Whereas Guns Don’t Kill People is the complete opposite of that sort of lazy blandness. Its entire appeal comes from how totally bonkers it is (those videos!), and the fact that it takes inspiration from sounds that come from outside of Diplo and Switch’s narrow cultural sphere.
Now comes the part where I say denigrating things for several paragraphs, in spite of my general admiration for the album. I know it’s becoming a habit, but I can’t help being perverse.
To me, Kala absolutely towers over this. The reason for that is, for all of its eclecticism, Kala still has one foot in pop songwriting. And the fact that my favourite track on that album is still ‘Paper Planes’ probably indicates that I value that characteristic. Hell, even Thick as a Brick is structured around (deeply unconventional) pop songwriting. I tend to like my pop songs clothed in somewhat flamboyant garb — be it prog rock bombast or a Diplo beat — but that doesn’t change the underlying value.
(The fact that your next assignment will have absolutely nothing to do with the craft of songwriting ought to indicate just how inconsistent my musical value system is. I am not at all sorry for this.)
Basically, my issue with Guns Don’t Kill People is that there’s no figure equivalent to M.I.A. on it — nobody to provide the raw goods for Diplo and Switch to dress up in mad, eclectic sonic outfits. (Though I did love that B-side with her on it.) Instead, we get a cavalcade of guests who each seem somewhat incidental to Diplo and Switch’s central concept. Aside from the Paul Simon-esque colonialist implications of that, which we’ve agreed to blithely ignore, this presents an aesthetic problem for me: for all of its internal cohesion and its high-concept grandstanding, Guns still feels like it lacks a core. It feels like a very attractive coat that nobody’s wearing.
And as for the guest artists — who occasionally wander by the coat, but never really consider putting it on — they’re a bit hit-and-miss, aren’t they? M.I.A.’s politics may piss a bunch of people off, but they make for more interesting listening than ‘Mary Jane.’ Granted, that’s an easy target and I’m a humourless d-bag. ‘What U Like,’ then.
So clearly, I didn’t love this. I liked it, basically. But I’d stick it at the lower end of my positive responses on this blog — above the Micronauts, certainly. But significantly lower than, say, Belle and Sebastian.
Okay, then. On to your next assignment, which I hope will be as challenging for you as this was for me.