Review: ‘Last Train to Paris’

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that this is a brand new sound,” chants Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs in the first few seconds of “Last Train to Paris”, his latest CD with new musical group Diddy-Dirty Money. The group, featuring Combs alongside Dawn Wilson and Kalenna Harper, says their album is part of an entirely new genre that they call “train music.” While it is a departure from Diddy’s usual rap sound, the tracks from Diddy-Dirty Money are hardly earth-shattering. They sample a few cool, quirky sounds – smooth beats along with some edgy drums – but the record is mostly just a solid dance album. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just nowhere near as thrilling as Diddy-Dirty Money makes it out to be.

According to the band, Diddy-Dirty Money is not just another Sean Combs act. The group’s official site describes D.D.M. as “an organic group that grew out of a shared love for music” that is reinventing music. This is a complete exaggeration. The girls, Harper and Wilson, definitely have singing chops – but despite this, “Last Train to Paris” still feels like a plain Diddy album featuring some random guest singers. Which is ironic, because the album is already jam-packed with guest vocals: Swizz Beatz, The Notorious B.I.G., Chris Brown, Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Trey Songz, T.I., Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, and Usher all drop by, among others. In fact, there are so many singers on the album that it becomes incredibly difficult to tell them apart. It’s like a crazy, nonstop party where everyone is trying to get a few words in but nobody can hear.

Diddy-Dirty Money says they wrote “Last Train to Paris” as a complicated love story that is told over multiple tracks, full of love, jealousy, betrayal, and – you guessed it – a train to Paris. Without printing out all the lyrics and analyzing every word, though, there’s absolutely no way you could get this impression; it’s hard to understand what Diddy and the other artists are saying through all of the auto-tuning and synthesizers. If you do decipher the lyrics, it’s clear that words are not Diddy-Dirty Money’s main strength. One song, “Shades,” quips, “I know I got a lot of baggage / It’s for the ladies and Mercedes / And I know that it’s heavy / But I pray that someone will grab it for me.” Is Diddy-Dirty Money dirty? Very. If you’re the type who cringes at profanity, you will not like this album at all.

With that said, the songs do blend together well. Often, when I was listening, I barely noticed when the CD changed tracks – the entire record feels like one long song with multiple movements. Every song has an incredibly smooth, polished feel to it, and each track feels like it has been tweaked and scrubbed until it shines; whether this is good or bad depends entirely on your preference. Music lovers who love to hear wild, emotional screams or soft, heartbreaking whispers will find no luck here – auto-tune irons out every voice imperfection. If anything, Diddy-Dirty Money sounds robotic, but with the dance beats and spacey drums, it fits.

An “Intro” track is the first one on the album; it’s supposed to provide some sort of back story, but it has no rhythm whatsoever and Diddy sounds like he’s mumbling his way through it. My advice to listeners: just skip it – it’s not worth any time. The next track, “Yeah Yeah You Would” (feat. Grace Jones), is where the album really starts off. Its bouncy beat is nothing new, but subtle sounds in the background – static, piano, and futuristic-sounding synths – make it sound both dark and dance-y at the same time. If you can get past Diddy’s dirty mouth and his ridiculous swaggering claims (“This will change your life!” He shouts. It won’t) it’s a decent tune. The next song, “I Hate That You Love Me,” takes on a delightfully jazzy feel with a smooth piano that sounds like something you could tango to on the dance floor. Both of these songs were among my favorites. They’re the kind of songs that have you swaying subconsciously – a kind of guilty pleasure.

Unfortunately, the rest of the record seems to go downhill after that. Many of the songs have a hint of potential, but fall back into boring rap beats; if you like rap to begin with, you’ll probably like these well enough. For the most part, the album slides down into a profanity-riddled, ‘drugs-cars-girls’ themed, over-synthesized mess. It feels appropriate for a loud, sweaty school dance, but not much else. This isn’t helped at all by the fact that every five seconds, you hear someone yell, “It’s the Dirty Money!” We get it. They’re Diddy-Dirty Money.

A much-anticipated collaboration with Usher, “Looking For Love,” falls completely flat – its swaggering beat is boring and sounds pretty horrible. The lyrics are disgustingly shallow (and I listened to the “censored” version). Other celebrity collaborations that seem like they should be incredible are actually quite boring: “Shades,” featuring Lil Wayne and Justin Timberlake could have been a fantastic collaboration; instead, it’s filled with moaning and groaning, plus a bizarre horn noise in the back. The rest of the songs blur together in a cloud of trippy synthesizers and raps about clubs and drugs… until near the end. “Hello Good Morning” (featuring T.I.), which has been released as a single, actually has a contagious, thumping beat and an anthem sound. Its rich layers, complimented by Wilson and Harper, fill your senses and pulse in your body. It’s a nice surprise.

By far, though, the best song in the whole album comes at the end. An unexpected gem, “Coming Home,” featuring the lovely Skylar Grey (look her up if you don’t know who she is. It’s worth it.) hits all the right notes – literally and figuratively. From the very first piano keys, Grey sings so beautifully:

“I’m coming home / Tell the world I’m coming home. / Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday / I know my kingdom awaits.”

The song has a soaring feel to it. When Diddy comes in to rap, he’s good, but not nearly as good as Ms. Grey, who sings the chorus with an elegant softness every time. The song’s lyrics seem more meaningful than the rest of the album combined. In short – “Coming Home” is a victory.

If you’re a fan of artists like Sean Combs, Usher, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown, you’ll probably like this album just fine – maybe more than fine. Personally, I found a couple tracks that I liked, but the album as a whole didn’t feel like the “revolution” that Diddy-Dirty Money kept saying it was. With time, the band might branch into more of the unique, funky beats that made it stand out – this is where D.D.M.’s true talent lies. But until Diddy-Dirty Money can truly escape the pack, they will remain a fairly unremarkable mainstream group.