DistantReverb Fire

25 August 2010

M.I.A. - MAYA

4.4
It’s hard to approach the new record by M.I.A. as you would any other album. Maya Arulpragasam has always been politically outspoken and unafraid to call things as she sees them. However, the rumblings in the alternative media and ‘blogosphere’ together with the release of the provocative album art before the release of this, her 3rd LP, suggested that perhaps M.I.A. was ready to take things a step further. Politics aside, M.I.A has set the bar high musically speaking; her impossibly energetic debut Arular and more measured and professional follow up Kala, received near universal acclaim for her ability to blend sounds from a variety of genres and cultures, and so expectations are higher than ever.

Opening track “The Message”, which must surely be generously regarded as more of a skit than a song, introduces the theme of “information politics” that doesn’t pervade the rest of the album anywhere near as much as you might expect. Indeed, anyone expecting any sort of coherent political message will be left disappointed and confused. Though perhaps this is something to be thankful for, for fear that M.I.A. becomes regarded as some kind of preachy Bono figure. After all, some are already understandably but perhaps harshly questioning her ghetto credentials after she got engaged to/married a billionaire.

Regular collaborators Diplo and Switch return to produce and co-produce a number of tracks, but it is the addition of dubstep producer Rusko to the production staff that provides some of the most interesting moments on the album including “Steppin Up” and “Story to be Told” both exhibiting a darker sound that made appearances on Kala. “Steppin Up” is one of very few tracks that can stand up to the quality of M.I.A.’s previous work, it immediately grabs the listener’s attention with its electric drill noises that accompany the dubstep swagger of Rusko’s production and stay just the right side of being intrusive. The same can’t be said for the electronic squeals of “Teqkilla”, another Rusko produced track, which frustratingly render a fairly average but listenable song totally unlistenable. Elsewhere the consecutive “Tell Me Why” and “Space” feel like a two-part effort to recapture the magic of Kala’s anthemic “Paper Planes”, M.I.A.’s biggest commercial success to date, but neither can rise to the occasion and end up feeling rather ineffectual.

However, in the commercial area it is more likely that “XXXO” possesses the greatest mainstream crossover potential; a song that doesn’t sound a million miles away from something that post-breakdown Britney Spears might release, but somehow in a good way, and along with “Born Free” provides one of the album’s most fun moments. The chorus line “You want me be somebody who I’m really not” gives a general message of refusal live up to the expectations of others, but the seemingly innocuous references to iPhones and picture uploads subtly refer to internet social politics and perhaps the duality on online and real life personas.

The role of anthem is clearly taken up by Suicide sampling “Born Free”, the purposefully ramshackle production of which contributes to the punk aesthetic and message of the song for the most part but M.I.A.’s echoed vocals and loose rhythms whilst for the most part contributing to this effect can at times deprive the track of the raw power needed to hammer it’s message home.

Most of the tracks on this record unfortunately take on the mantle of being near-misses; there aren’t any really terrible tracks with the exception of bonus track “Internet Connection” which is arguably M.I.A.’s worst song to date. There is a understated charm to the downbeat terrorism themed “Lovalot” and touchingly reflective “ It Iz What It Iz” if you’re willing to forgive lyrics such as “And we can have discussions while we are playing Wii” in the latter. But both in the end lack a special something to make them truly memorable.

If this record was the work of a new artist it would certainly display promise and an understandable need for refinement; but it’s very concerning that M.I.A. an already established and celebrated artist has released such a mediocre record at this stage of her career, and may give weight to rumours that she has lost her passion for making music and that this ultimately disappointing record is her proverbial ‘last hurrah’. Many fans will hope that is not the case and that M.I.A. will return to redeem herself, equally others would rather she did not risk harming her legacy further with another potentially tired and mediocre offering.

Listen now on Spotify

Steve

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Discussion

There are 32 comments for this review.

Michael says...

What the fuck is this shit? You think you're Pitchfork or something? *eyeroll*

Orb says...

Lol this review You didn't even bother to mention "Illygirl" one of the best tracks on the album

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