One of the most enduring trends of pop music is its capacity to come up with a good idea, then copy that idea a hundred times. Sometimes the copies are worthwhile, indeed sometimes they’re better than the original, and that’s certainly what Diplo is aiming for with Chapter 1: Snake Oil, his record of country-pop crossovers. Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road was clearly the initial inspiration, but the record spends most of its 26-minute runtime on a more EDM-flavoured fusion.
So Long with Cam is a good example of this, muted guitar strums and pentatonic fiddle on top of a pulsing 4×4 beat. The songwriting here is perfectly pleasant, as it is for most of the record, but the attempts at genre-bending only work half of the time. Lonely, with the Jonas Brothers, starts off with a promising verse, moves into a solid hook, then ruins everything with an obnoxious drop featuring what sounds like distorted off-key warbling.
Dance With Me features taut, syncopated rhythms and a hook very reminiscent of Zara Larsson’s Lush Life alongside an all-too-brief Young Thug verse, while closing track Heartbreak comes through with the only interesting lyrical concept of the album (“Yeah I wish we coulda made it, hey but it’s okay / ‘cause heartbreak makes the world go round and round and round”).
The closest thing to Old Town Road in the tracklist proper is Heartless with Morgan Wallen, its bassy beat keeping time underneath watery guitar chords and Wallen’s distinctive Southern drawl, and it’s nice enough. That’s the problem with Snake Oil, though: the highest bar the music reaches is being decent, and the loftiest ambition of these songs is to be simply tolerated, packed in amongst other unremarkable tunes on an Apple Music playlist called ‘Tuesday Vibes’ or something similar.