ALBUM REVIEW: M.I.A. – Matangi

Matangi artwork
Matangi artwork

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.36.33 AM

ARTIST M.I.A.

ALBUM Matangi

LABEL Interscope

RELEASE DATE 5 November 2013

8.7 | 10

Matangi was supposed to be a disaster. The oft-maligned fourth studio album from M.I.A. has been on her label Interscope’s back burner for some time now, which is usually a premonition for ensuing catastrophe. That her last album, 2010’s /\/\ /\ Y /\, was met with such disdain only fueled the notion that Mathangi Arulpragasam’s fifteen minutes of fame had come to an early end. Fortunately, the numerous false starts and setbacks that preceded Matangi do not diminish the excellence of M.I.A.’s new album, which repositions her as one of the most compelling and essential artists of the early 21st century.

This new collection has seemingly had multiple lead singles, with the first, “Bad Girls,” arriving in early 2012. But after her middle finger said hello to millions of viewers during her guest stint in Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime performance, the “Paper Planes” singer appeared to have decidedly cut the last tie between her and her growing fame. Unfortunately, M.I.A. failed to realize that “Give Me All Your Luvin’” was enough of a middle finger that going through with the gesture was a little too on the nose. After her self-imposed public exile, M.I.A. returned to the studio to the put the finishing touches on her new album, only for the new songs to be deemed “too positive” by her record label, whatever that means. So it wasn’t until summer 2013 when we heard the first official lead single from Matangi, “Bring The Noize.”

The official lead single found M.I.A. tending to her pop roots while also pushing her further into the ground she walked on 2007’s Kala. But this isn’t a rehashing of old ideas. M.I.A. makes that much clear on the opening “Karmageddon,” which opens with Middle Eastern musical flourishes, before adopting a frenetic, rapid fire drum loop. The intro track ends with M.I.A. forebodingly singing, “My words are my armor / And you’re bout to meet your karma.” What follows is a relentless, captivating 14 tracks that showcase some of M.I.A.’s best material. “MATANGI” works in a way that only M.I.A. could make it work, and “Only 1 U” is turned from a conventional top 40 hit to a left-field pop song. Listening to Matangi takes on the form of audible land mines, each moment explosively charged, keeping the listener at the edge of her seat and hanging on to Maya’s every word. “Gangstas, bangers / We’re puttin’ ‘em in a trance,” she later sings on the tribal “Warriors,” fully aware of her prowess.

“Boom Skit” directly addresses her critics, and it’s short runtime gives Maya enough time to put those critics in their place while also not lingering too long on the issue. And her ability to turn her detractors’ words against them, as she raps “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,” finds M.I.A. to be cognizant of her setting, grounded in the same reality as the rest of us. She ends the track be referencing Joseph Kony, the tyrannical Ugandan leader who inspired the Kony 2012 viral campaign, which brilliantly is intended as a dated reference solely to show how quick we are to dismiss those things we aren’t directly affected by.

Matangi might not have the type of global hit in the vein of “Paper Planes,” but much like Kala’s penultimate track, it’s Matangi’s second-to-last cut that finds M.I.A. delivering the kind of swagger found on “Planes.” “Know It Ain’t Right” sees M.I.A. in her pusher mode, as she raps on the hook, “What you want / Come see me / I got bootleg love for free / I got Adbul in a taxi and / He’ll drop you down for free.” But while “Planes” was lifted by a sense of invincibility, “Right” is M.I.A. five years older, with a little more responsibility on her plate. “We know it ain’t right but we do it anyway,” she raps at the end of the hook. That line of reasoning has been central to M.I.A.’s rise and fall, but for now, it’s helping her rise back to the top.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this review stated that Mercury was M.I.A.’s current label. It has since been corrected.

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