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The interviews make it seem like the music is very serious and very political and very controversial. Well, maybe but I wouldn't know. I'm having too much fun listening to it all.
It's not enough to make good music anymore. Actually, let's expand that a bit...it's not enough to make great art anymore. There has to be controversy or it won't sell. There's gotta be a boycott or a discussion of why the message is bad for kids. Either that or you cater to the lowest common denominator. There are exceptions, of course. But it seems as if you want to get noticed you have to either be extremely corporate or have a Rockstar's ego and penchant for controversy. If you've been following the internet at all, you'll know that M.I.A. is all about getting up in people's faces. From the New York Times fiasco to the NSFG (Not Safe For Gingers) video for her lead off single "Born Free", right on down to the freaking name of the album (which was made to be intentionally difficult to index via a traditional web-search, but that most outlets of disappointingly changed to the SEO-friendly "Maya"), it seems that M.I.A. is very self-aware as to the image she wants to portray in service of her album sales. There is a clear awareness of internet culture just in the packaging and artwork of the album although if you are looking for a clear statement of why that is, I think you'd be hard pressed to find anything concrete (it is simultaneously embracing of the internet and mocking it at the same time). Beyond the intro song, "The Message", the actual music does not bring back the internet theme in ways as specific as the cover and the liner notes - although it does carry a certain pop-culture awareness that only seems to make sense online (for example, upload your photo/see below/you like what you see you can download in stores/we can find ways/to expand what you know/I can be the actress you be Tarantino from "Xxxo").
The music itself should be familiar to fans of Diplo (and the very popular Major Lazer) in that it is characterized by lots strange percussion and reggae-like dance beats accented by the odd distorted electronic sound. It is infinitely funky and more than a little dance-floor ready. There is nothing as Pop-Centric as "Paper Planes" (though "It Takes A Muscle" is pretty close save for being a bit too much of a Reggae song to break through to your radio) and in many ways M.I.A. isn't so much singing as she is decorating the tracks with a mix of sing-songy-dancehall rap. I listened to the album over and over and over again because I couldn't tell if I liked it or not. Now I can tell you that I think this album is brilliant - but it made me work to hear it because of how weird it can be from time to time. I think the most accessible song is probably going to be "Xxxo". There is an obsession with the internet, big-brother-like spying, getting down, achieving a higher state of mind, and speaking out against the government on here, but really it's so breezy that you might miss it (listen to "It Iz What It Iz" where the subtly of her performance is most clearly demonstrated). I think the politics translate better in interviews because on the song the lyrics are buried under so many layers of oddity that you might not really even hear them.
"Born Free" and "Meds and Feds" are the most Rock-Heavy songs on the album. These two songs alone almost made me want to file this whole album under "Rock" (just like the Major Lazer review, I'm not really sure we have a genre on the site that can adequately hold this one). It makes sense that one of the two ("Born Free") would be the song to reach out and try to grab your attention; they are the most bombastic and ostentatious songs on the entire album. Both feature heavy, industrial guitars over a sparse danceable beat, though I think "Born Free" works better as a song.
It is clear that M.I.A. exists as a sort of force of nature. She is the ego and the attitude that sets the tone for the record. I believe this is commonly referred to as "Rock-Star Swagger". From "Born Free":
I don't want to talk about money, cause I got it.
And I don't want to talk about hoochies, cause I been it.
And I don't want to be that fake, but you can do it.
And imitators, yeah. Stick it.
She might be a good singer ("Space" attempts to argue that point). She might even be a politically and socially complex person. None of that matters when it comes to the music. All that matters is that the music finds a way to match her aura. She's got a team of talented producers who want to put her in the center of a storm of sounds that provide an impression of the swagger...if nothing else, it's fun to listen to.
3.909 out of 5
|1. The Message (00:57)|
|2. Steppin Up (04:01)||4|
|3. XXXO (02:54)||5|
|4. Teqkilla (06:19)||4|
|5. Lovalot (02:50)||4|
|6. Story to Be Told (03:32)||4|
|7. It Takes a Muscle (03:00)||4|
|8. It Iz What It Iz (03:29)||3|
|9. Born Free (04:07)||5|
|10. Meds and Feds (03:08)||3|
|11. Tell Me Why (04:10)||3|
|12. Space (03:08)||4|
|13. Internet Connection (02:50)|
|14. Illygirl (02:14)|
|15. Believer (03:14)|
|16. Caps Lock (04:00)|