M.I.A. Returns To Form With “Matangi”


The trajectory of Maya Arulpragasm’s career is a familiar one. She burst onto the scene with album teasing mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism, a release that introduced the world to it’s first and only truly 21st century pop star, M.I.A., a punk polemicist with two turntables and a megaphone, equally adept at inciting riots and four to the floor dance floor apocalypses. Her first album Arular was the typical, universally acclaimed debut, and Kala, the unlikely sophomore release that dodged the forecasted slump, managed to top it, despite visa issues disrupting her initial plans to record the entire LP with super-producer Timbaland. Lucky her (and us) for sidestepping Shock Value II level wankery in favor of a considerably more satisfying and fascinating hodgepodge of global sounds filtered through her uniquely revolutionary prism. Her follow-up album, Maya, was an unfortunate misfire, 10,000 zig spoons when all you needed was a zag knife. Seriously, people fucking hated that album.

Ex-boyfriend/frequent collaborator Diplo was quoted as saying it sounded like Skinny Puppy, as apt a reckless criticism as any considering much of the album’s run time was amelodic, frustrating and relentlessly unkind to the ears. It had its gems, but M.I.A. had built a brand, and with it, an expectation of consistency. At the time, she was the target of much criticism, an endless cacophony of cred questioning surrounding any mention of her name, so going the “Fuck You” route wasn’t surprising, which is problematic if shocking people is your entire goal. With Maya, she had forgotten that the reason widespread audiences were so open to her agit-prop-pop wasn’t because she was aimlessly spouting slacktivist talking points and griping about the Gaza strip from an increasingly incomprehensible twitter feed, but because she was able to deliver expressive, incendiary missives about geopolitics while making some of the most exciting music on the planet.

When people discuss how complicated and strange music has become thanks to life after the internet, they need no better distillation than M.I.A.’s music. At her best, M.I.A. is able to meld the wildest aspects of whatever genre is fueling her current muse and recontextualize them into something new and digestible for the masses. For M.I.A., moving so far into the direction Maya took her was as damaging to her profile as making an entire glossy, commercial album with Rihanna’s songwriters and producers would have been.

That’s what comebacks are for, though, and make no mistake, Matangi is just that, less a return to form and more a renewed statement of intent. The closing words to opening track “Karmageddon” are “My words are my armor and you’re about to meet your karma.” The razor wit and the supernova charisma that was so muddled on her last release is on full display here. M.I.A. sounds positively re-energized, her most quotable album since her debut. She’s a fighter through and through, and the battle with her label to get this damn thing released clearly brought out the best in her. It boggles the mind why they were hesitant to do so, considering how infectious and raucous the whole affair turned out. It’s unfortunate another pop star already released an album called Bangerz, because this thing thumps.

Usual collaborator Switch is all over Matangi, but it’s three new cohorts from the hip-hop world who help breathe new life into the proceedings. Danja, the man who brought Britney Spears back from her own personal Armageddon (the calendar year 2007) delivers the lead single, “Bad Girls,” which originally appeared on her otherwise underwhelming Vicki Leekx mixtape. It’s arguably a better pop song than “Paper Planes” ever was, and its the primer for everything else that’s right with this album. She also made the smart move of hooking up with Hit-Boy, the young man who gave Kendrick Lamar “Backseat Freestyle” and helped Kanye West & Jay-Z create “Niggas In Paris.” His standout contribution, “Boom Skit” is barely a minute long, but it provides M.I.A. with the platform to spit some of the sharpest lines of her career:

“Brown girl, brown girl
Turn your shit down
You know America don’t wanna hear your sound
Boom boom jungle music
Go back to India
With your crazy shit, you’re bombing up the area
Looking through your Instagram
Looking for a pentagram
All I see is poor people, they should be on ghetto-gram
You don’t get our underground
Brofest or overground eat ham
Fist pump, even throw your dick around
Yeah you try to stick around
Do you do you bikram?
Let you into Super Bowl, you tried to steal Madonna’s crown
What the fuck you on about?
Think about goin to France, quelle heure est-il
This ain’t time for your terror dance
Eat, pray, love
Spend time in the Ashram
Or I’ll drone you
Kony 2012
Now scram!”

The track reminds me of Jay-Z’s similarly abrupt “Beach Is Better.” Both songs made more of an impact with less.

Doc McKinney, an old hand who has been around for awhile but is most recently known for his work with misanthropic R&B lothario The Weeknd, works on the intro as well as a pair of tracks that sample The Weeknd himself. “Exodus” and “Sexodus” are curious, tonally, but sonically, they ape a vibe M.I.A. has been missing since his first album. She has a power over her own sexuality on wax most of her peers should envy. She can slip into something slinky without it seeming like pandering, and there’s always a sly, knowing nod right behind it.

Marginalized, pissed off, and outspoken, M.I.A. is at the peak of powers when she’s subverting expectations and pairing trunk rattling club anthems with smirking rejoinders. “Started from the bottom, but Drake gets all the credit” she muses on the title, not long before she appropriates the Canadian’s insufferable “yolo” for the track “Y.A.L.A.” a lively and celebratory globetrotter with delectable riddims. “Double Bubble Trouble” is cut from the same cloth, a parade of laser synths and booming bass. Even among the repetitive din of club sounds, M.I.A. still offers a unique perspective. She’s the voice of the voiceless, and her revolution may not be televised, but it will be make you shake your ass.

Matangi doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of her first two albums, and it’s not devoid of misfires, as evidenced by the enjoyable but cloying “aTENTion” and the slight “Lights,” but certified hits like “Warriors” and “Bring The Noize” (where M.I.A. refers to herself as a “female, overweight Slick Rick”) more than make up for it. Pop music needs M.I.A. She delivers on the promise made when Timbaland first started sampling Indian flutes on old Missy Elliot records. She’s post-pretty much anything you can name, and her fiercely modern stylings infuse what might otherwise be hollow dance music with a bite that it sorely needs. Katy Perry is too milquetoast and Lady Gaga is too damn weird. We need M.I.A. She’s the Paul Greengrass directed Bourne movie of pop music.

Post By Dominic Griffin (127 Posts)

Deadshirt staff writer. Dominic's loves include movies with Michael Caine, comics about people getting kicked in the face, Wham!'s greatest hits, and the amateur use of sleight of hand magic to grift strangers at train stations. His one true goal in life is to EGOT.


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