Words About Music
English-Sri Lankan rapper/singer M.I.A. is one of the millennium’s most controversial figures, whether she’s fighting it out with the New York Times or flipping the bird at the Super Bowl. But I’d like to think she’s mostly known for her artistic output, through which she’s combined alternative hip hop, world music, electronic dance music, and pop in one of the most interesting ways we’ve heard in years. Which of course would explain the critical and commercial success of her first two albums “Arular” and “Kala.” Her third album, “/\/\ /\ Y /\,” or simply “Maya,” received significantly less acclaim from critics, with a lot of people not quite liking M.I.A.’s choice to sing on the majority of the songs, among other aspects. Three years later, Maya has returned with the long-delayed and highly anticipated “Matangi,” and it’s anticlimactic to say the least.
Much like on “Maya,” we’re hearing quite a bit of singing on this record, and not all of it is very intelligible. M.I.A. isn’t always very clear with her annunciation, but on “Matangi” especially it seems like we as listeners are supposed to worry less about the lyrics and worry more about the sounds here. And sometimes that’s okay, because like on most M.I.A. albums there are some very interesting sounds. I’ve always loved the sound of M.I.A.’s voice, even when I can’t understand a single word she’s saying, and there are several moments on “Matangi” where it’s hard to understand what she’s saying. “Matangi” feels a lot like an electronic dance music album and less like a hip hop album, but sometimes it works.
Sure, the long delay hurt this album a bit. Songs like “Y.A.L.A.,” which is sort of a response to the “Y.O.L.O.” craze of a million internet years ago, lose a bit of credibility when they appear at the end of 2013 when we’re busy talking about a stupid fox. Also, almost the entire first half of this album is pretty underwhelming, taking more of an electro-pop influences at some points, and not in a way that suits M.I.A. at all. But again, I can’t help but absolutely love a lot of the production on here, which is colorful, bright, and so full of East-World-punk that it makes it hard to dislike “Matangi” as a whole.
Alas, there are not many songs on this album that actually stick out as worthwhile M.I.A. songs, and any of them that do usually rest comfortably in the second half of this record. I’d also like to mention that the contributions from The Weeknd were so unnecessary that if his name weren’t listed in the title of the song I’d never know he added anything to it. But if there’s one positive thing I can say about M.I.A. is that she’s at least never not interesting, whether she’s singing over a minimalist beat or being her own hype-woman. Overall, “Matangi” is a bit of a misstep in M.I.A.’s crazy career, and hopefully it’s her last.
SCORE – 5.3
FAVORITE TRACKS – aTENTion, Bad Girls, Double Bubble Trouble, Y.A.L.A., Bring the Noize, Lights, Know It Ain’t Right