Review Summary: M.I.A. is missing in action.
If nothing else, M.I.A. is an entertainer. As an artist, she's made it a goal to transform political messages and allegorical premises into what's constantly being misconstrued as mindless pop-rot. "Paper Planes" was a radio mainstay, but to the casual listener (read: those who heard the song a few times in a commercial for Pineapple Express
), it was a trippy loop built off drug-addled inanity. Brilliant. It's her concept, and she's rolled with it for two albums straight, being subject to plenty of criticism, such as the recent fiasco between herself and The New York Times. She took something relatively bad (a renowned journalistic dynamo writing an article on why you're "fake") and turned it into just another opportunity to entertain. For those of you who haven't heard, M.I.A. posted the phone number of this very detractor on her twitter account, and immediately, an equal amount of hate mail went to both parties. What I'm thinking? Hysterical. Absolutely hysterical.
Unfortunately, it seems that M.I.A. has been focusing much more on her scandals than her music. Her third album is a total slump, choked by the very concepts which rose its maker to stardom. Maya
is an album that aims to synthesize a variety of samples, sounds, and genres, but fails in the process, coming off as a disjointed, tired work. Where's the energy we saw last time on Kala
? How about the lovable allegories and quirky vibrance - where has that all gone to? Oh yeah, that's right - Twitter.
Now, we get Maya
's haphazard takes on the artist's past. On "Teqkilla," her alternative take on electronic and hip-hop comes across as half-finished; potential surrounds the buzzing synths and cultural tinge, but its execution is deplorable. Her voice is covered in auto-tune, and comes across as ridiculously threadbare. "Lovalot" follows a similar demise, coming off clever enough with turns of phrase ("I love it a lot" turns into "I love Allah,") but again, M.I.A. prefers the messy rough draft to the formal novel. Slip in some industrial influence here. Sing into a vocoder lazily. Create a whirlwind of directionless sound effects here, here, and here, and only then can you call it a song.
Strangely enough though, the album's premise was to become a "digital ruckus," as well as to be "schizophrenic." In a way, M.I.A. hit her mark, but, the execution is not nearly as exciting as she wished. She proclaimed, "we need a digital moshpit like we've never seen, harder than how people were doing it in the punk era. We need that energy, but digitally." Unfortunately, her electric slice-n-dice fades into the background as a transethnic wish-wash. She sculpts deteriorating planes of noise, yes, but it soon becomes clear that her attempts at diversification are simply sloppy and directionless. Case in point, "XXXO," one of the disc's more industrial tracks, is unable to live up to the eclectic and daring image that others have touted it towards. Again, on Spectral Display-cover "It Takes a Muscle," she takes reggae and a noisier alternative to pop, and comes out with a slice of abrasive boredom, too directionless to do much more than fall flat on its ass. M.I.A. and her producers take edgy ideas (noise-pop meets Eastern music, for one - funk carioca meets industrial, for another) and then sterilize them via excessive auto-tune and humdrum beats and or melodies.
It's nearly impossible to do, too. She's got sirens, explosions, gunshots, and more at her disposal, as well as enough collaborators to turn the barrage of electric jolts into wave of climaxes and hooks. But by some fatality of imagination, she turns wonderful ideas into boring syncretism. The sample-reliant "Born Free" lacks the energy or magnetism to come across as relevant, and the excessive power chords do nothing to keep the synths from chirping their way into a more stagnant and unnecessary puddle. The noisy "Meds and Feds" samples "Treats" from Sleigh Bells's latest, and unfortunately, that's the most exciting part about it; it tries to be a romp, inserting interesting bits of noise and guitar here and there, but ultimately doing nothing with them. What it all boils down to is that even with so many reputable producers behind her (Diplo, Rusko, you name it), M.I.A. still fails to make a memorable or necessary tune, and as she tries her hardest to shock, all she does is bore. She's got a nice concept, but the execution makes the most interesting aspect to this album the fact that The New York Times enjoyed the album. And after all that internet warfare, too. In both ways, she certainly hit the nail on the head, right?