With Last Train to Paris, Sean "Puffy" Combs finally surmounts his increasingly ridiculous persona as meagrely-talented, bling-tastic music-biz mogul, and makes an album that comes close to bearing out his own immodest assessment of his capacities.
It's easily the best work Diddy's been involved with in his entire career, with his decision to create a new group alongside the Dirty Money duo of dramatically-coiffed singer-songwriters Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper being undoubtedly his canniest move in years.
On tracks like the infectious "Yeah Yeah You Would" and "Ass on the Floor", Dirty Money come across more as heiresses of TLC's smooth, ghetto-fabulous style than the subsequent run of game showbiz hoofers moulded into vocal groups; and it's their emphasis on emotion over purely dance imperatives that enables Diddy's concept album to work. It's not much of a concept – basically, our hero finds, then loses, the love of his life while shuttling back and forth between London and Paris – but in its favour, it rejects the dreary reliance on tales of drugs and guns that has long been the staple diet of most hip-hop (including, it must be said, much of Diddy's previous output).
For the bulk of the tracks, Diddy himself appears only marginally involved in the actual musical production – which is left to a reliable corps including Mario Winans, Danja, Swizz Beats and Rodney Jerkins – appearing only occasionally to contribute the latest instalment of his rap narrative, with Dirty Money playing the various female roles. Sometimes, Diddy doesn't seem to be there at all, leaving the male vocals to a large cast of guests whose number includes Usher, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Justin Timberlake, along with an ill-judged appearance by Puffy's posthumous chum Notorious B.I.G. on "Angels".
But Diddy's influence is surely decisive in the overall sound of the album, which despite the range of different producers has a distinctive character unlike most of his American peers, being rooted in the European electro-disco scene, bordering in places on UK grime territory. The subtle, liquid throbbing of "Intro" sets the mood, followed by the intriguing wheeze and whine of Danja's synths on "Yeah Yeah You Would" and later, the undulating electronic buzz and wooden percussion of "Hate You Now", on which the ebullient charm of Dirty Money's vocals is most piquantly contrasted with Diddy's laconic diction.
"Strobe Lights" offers another potent dose of fluttering Euro-electro synths, while the most effective old-school employment of sample-grooves comes on Jerry DuPlessis's production of "Someone to Love Me", where the Sweet Inspirations sample combines with the stalking bass strut to create an instantly infectious backing for Diddy's autobiographical rap. "Mix me with violence, blend me with peace, combine me with hate, and I can't face defeat," he claims, and for once his bumptious braggadocio is just about borne out by the results.
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