She may not have released an album since 2010, but Maya Arulpragasam has certainly had a busy three years. Whether it be outraging American TV networks by showing a middle finger to the camera during the Superbowl, making ill-advised remarks on Twitter about serving cups of tea and Mars Bars to the London rioters, arguing with her record company, or guesting with Nicki Minaj on a Madonna song, M.I.A. has hardly been out of the public eye.
M.I.A’s previous album, Maya, was a curious mis-step for someone who had previously been on a pretty constant upward career trajectory. Despite the presence of the odd incendiary anthem such as Born Free or Xxxo, there were far too many forgettable, by-the-numbers tracks which ultimately deemed it to be a failure. This time round though, the one accusation you can’t level at Matangi is being forgettable.
Bad Girls still sounds as fresh and hypnotic as it did on its release nearly two years ago, while more recent single Bring The Noize is M.I.A. at her most exhilarating and abrasive. The clattering assault of the percussion is thrilling enough, but when it’s combined with Arulpragasam spitting out rapid-fire lyrics like “Just because I’m a mum don’t make me thick, I’m an overweight, heavyweight, female Slick Rick”, it elevates it to ‘single of the year’ category.
Elsewhere, ideas and beats mesh together quite beautifully. Come Walk With Me is, for the first 90 seconds at least, a lovely, singalong pop song – perhaps her most commercial moment since 2007’s Paper Planes. Then, halfway through, jittery drums explode like a barrage of machine guns, turning the song on its head while still maintaining that irresistibly catchy chorus. Co-produced with Switch, sometime of Major Lazer, only Kanye West‘s Yeezus comes close in the sonic invention stakes.
This time round, the failures burn as brightly as the successes. aTENTion was apparently written with the unlikely help of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and attempts to list every word which rhymes with ‘tent’, which results in unwieldy lines such as “My existence is militant cause my content bangs like its potent, Distant to the pollutant, never hesitant, always consistent”. The title track sees her listing names of countries like a frantic contestant on Pointless, before coming up with the risible couplet of “If you’re gonna be me, need a manifesto, if you ain’t got one, you need one presto”.
Yet even when she loses the plot, Matangi never becomes anything less than compelling. YALA cocks a snook at Drake‘s YOLO philosophy (“if you only live once, why we keep doing the same shit”) and pleasingly rhymes Singapore with Julianne Moore, while The Weeknd pops up on the gorgeously lush Exodus. There’s even possibly the year’s most unlikely cover version in Double Bubble Trouble, where ’90s pop duo Shampoo‘s sole Top 20 hit Trouble is remoulded into an extraordinary dub reggae song.
It may not be the most accessible album M.I.A.’s ever released, and at times it may threaten to become borderline ludicrous. Yet it grabs the attention from the get-go, and refuses to let up through its 58 minutes. The result is an album with more ideas crammed into it than most other releases this year put together. It may not always work, but when it does, M.I.A. can still sound like the most exciting pop star on the planet.