Diddy just wants you to know that “love is a motherfucker.” And why not? To that end, he assembles a multitude of special guests—most of them still among the living, at least one not—to do the majority of the heavy lifting for him. Does it work? Yeah, it does. But given that Diddy employs his friends to provide the majority of the narrative bulk, just barely. Does it hold together as a classic album should? Nah—compare/contrast this with Kanye West’s recently released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and you’ll plainly hear the difference between a well-crafted, if somewhat scattershot album helmed by a singles specialist, and one whose aesthetic ambitions and pretensions augur much (on the art-rap synthesis tip) and deliver on just about every damn count.
Last Train to Paris is really good stuff, though. And damn near revelatory on tracks like the Swizz Beats showstopper, “Ass on the Floor,” the desperate, trip hop-lite(?) of “I Hate That You Love Me,” the one-upmanship between Lil Wayne and Justin Timberlake on “Shades,” or the cool, gracious Grace Jones featurette, “Yeah Yeah You Would.”
So maybe this is Puffy’s last stand? I dunno about that. But I do know that as an album experience, it leaves a bit (of something not quite defined) to be desired. Kinda like the whole being lesser than the sum of its parts—even though the individual performances that collectively constitute the whole of this thing are pretty darn good in and of themselves, these are good tracks wanting to be singles but resigned to “acting their age,” as all good album components should, basically.
Nevertheless, what you get is nine or ten really good songs. So take whatever you can get now, and never mind searching for “classics.”
Still, why in the world should anybody care about the artistic comings and goings of Sean Combs/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/whoever, in this day and age?
Well, because after a number of plays, this album is sounding more and more like the best R&B album I’ve heard since The-Dream’s now classic debut, Love Hate (no lie!). Because the production is so damn tight, and the resultant music so appealing (but then, Diddy’s always had a genius for scooping up talented up-and-comers, so that’s not much of a surprise). Because Lil Wayne is back in form and Timberlake invokes the X-men, in verse(?), on fave track “Shades.”
Yeah, probably all that and more.
Now, apropos of my not having a heck of a lot more to say on the subject of this Diddy-Dirty Money album in and of itself, here’s where we back up a bit and take a somewhat closer, more finely detailed look at the above-cited, and irrefutably crucial(?), Kanye vs. Diddy Clash of the Clods recently-released-album contest. Shall we?
Yes, I think we indeed shall.
Interestingly enough, and given that certain message board-posting louts are touting Last Train to Paris as the pleasant, literal antithesis/antidote to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy bummer trip in the rapping-megalomaniac album-auteur sweepstakes, 2010 stylee, I must state that I wholeheartedly demur on that front. ‘Cause I don’t see that, like, at all. I mean, sure, Diddy, much like West, may well be a self-centered narcissist with a penchant for the “finer” things in life and questionable taste in female companions, but he’s nowhere near as well-versed and/or ambitious, in re the subtle aesthetic interstices pertaining to the making of album art as such.
Quite the contrary actually, as producer/mogul/artist/puppet master Diddy has always been—and herein remains—a singles specialist (and a pretty damn good/smart one at that—witness, e.g., such ’90s mega-classics as “Juicy,” “Big Poppa,” “Hypnotized,” “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “I’ll Be Missing You,” “It’s All about the Benjamins,” “Feel so Good,” et al. Hell, even that WTF? Godzilla-ized ode to Led Zeppelin at their earth-shaking, cultural-pilfering grandest he put together back when, “Come with Me,” applies here, I think). See, despite the dude’s devotion to the ways of the unrepentant workaholic/grotesquely over-ambitious wanker-at-large (“here’s a toast to the douchebags” indeed), he simply doesn’t have the temperament/skills/genius(?) necessary to be a truly visionary album artist/auteur. Therefore, what you get instead is a terrific collection of potential singles that may, or may not—depending on the cumulative impact of his many collaborators’ efforts—detail any kind of narrative arc that is to be followed. Truth is, that though Last Train to Paris certainly provides the listener with a smoother listening experience on the whole, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy provides him or her with considerably uglier, yet far more engaging and ultimately compelling emotional terrain to circumnavigate.
So how does any of that not apply, in re Diddy as anti-Kanye?
Glad you asked.
Here’s how I kinda break it down, to an extent: For better and/or worse, West envisions his tortured artist’s stance on MBDTF as a sort of be-all/end-all “statement” in and of itself. Conversely, Diddy just wants you to feel Sean’s emotions as you listen to some solid, commercially viable R&B gone the Euro-trash “disco” route. That is, one sees himself primarily as a capital-A Artist, working out his emotional turmoil at your expense and/or for your benefit; the other, ever accepting his role as entertainer first and foremost, invites you to take a trip through his prefabricated, star-studded, magical little world. And though each depends on a multitude of special guests to fill the gaping holes in their respective soundscapes and/or narratives, only Diddy truly leans on them, hard. Meanwhile, ever the irascible scumbag, West prefers to set his guests (victims?) up just so they’ll have a better vantage point from which to witness him eclipsing their efforts with his vainglorious awesomeness.
But ultimately, this all just boils down to album auteur vs. singles specialist; and whichever SOB you personally prefer depends entirely on yourself (and the constitution of your stomach, of course). Either way, they’re both colossal, albeit highly talented, assholes.
Still, Diddy’s album is a different thing altogether , I’d say—way more neo-electro/trip-hop than anything even vaguely akin to Kanye’s glitchy art-rap synthesis. It’s also far prettier and more pleasing to the ear as well, and never even remotely as ugly (or potent!) as MBDTF at its jagged best—although, credit where due, it is way more consistently smooth, production-wise; plus the never-ending cameos never appear to get in the way of Diddy’s sense of aesthetic verisimilitude, so there’s that. In fact, a couple of minor, sound-alike numbers are possibly all that stand in the way of this becoming a genre classic (so blame Usher and Drake—and maybe Trey Songz, too—next time you run into them, okay?).