M.I.A.’s 4th release, Matangi has been advertised as a change of direction, as Maya Arulpragasam’s ‘spiritual’ album. Well, it is a change of direction, but this is an album that takes a bold and daring leap in the wrong direction.
The exciting thing about her early albums like Arular and Kala was how astonishingly on trend they managed to be, responding directly to current affairs, while at the same time tapping into a more general spirit of rebellion as well as optimism (her 3rd album Maya is even regarded by some as a prediction of recent American phone-tapping scandals). Perhaps because of its supposed spirituality, but probably more likely because of its much delayed release date, Matangi feels like the work of an artist struggling to keep up to date. ‘Y.A.L.A’, the albums ‘YOLO’ parody song, for example feels like it’s come at least half a year too late to have any impact.
‘Y.A.L.A’, also feels rather like an excuse to make a ‘YOLO’ song, justified only by the old adage ‘oh but I was doing it ironically’. And this is a problem with the album in general: M.I.A has never sounded so insincere. Take for example the singles like ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘Bring the Noize’, both of which sound so unfortunately derivative as to make you doubt M.I.A’s much vaunted artistic individuality. Referentiality doesn’t have to be insincere as demonstrated by great tracks like the hazy dream pop ‘Exodus’ and the turbo-charged, constantly mutating ‘Only 1 U’, but too often the music only serves as an advertisement for its sources.
There’s also just some lazy lyrics (‘I’m so tangy they call me Matangi’) and ridiculous attempts to position herself as the persecuted victim (‘Boom Skit”’includes a ridiculous line about the authorities preventing her stealing ‘Madonna’s crown’). This is an album with the appearance of revolutionary ideas but without actually making any clear statements, and it’s hard not to feel as though M.I.A has lost touch with any kind of reality. The same goes for the supposed spiritual element that engages only with its most stereotype like the chanting of ‘om’ in the opening ‘Karmageddon’ for example. Of course M.I.A has always played with the postmodern approach of using kitsch and stereotype to make serious points but here the approach implodes itself. The album takes irony so far that it forgets to leave anything to actually be ironic about.
It’s not like this is a truly bad album. It’s danceable, it holds your interest, its good fun sometimes but it lacks the kind of social engagement we have come to expect. There are plenty of artists who create great music, but not many of them have managed to be so politically engaged simultaneously. This album demonstrates M.I.A’s failure to maintain this status following her long hiatus. Here she takes a bold step into the mundane.
Download: ‘Only 1 U’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Warriors’