Review Summary: Pure fire.
M.I.A. is an artist that knows no limits nor is bound by a thirst for commercial success, she is a beast that has one agenda- to satisfy herself. Throughout the years artists have come and gone, some delivering standout albums that sit comfortably outside of the 'mainstream', however not all keep the line in the sand. Some inevitably cross-over, which is fine, except most experience a dilution of sound, a focus of image; they become a product and the music becomes secondary. M.I.A. has always ducked and dived, ignoring the commercial pull, even with the smash hit 'Paper Planes' it didn't deter her future. After the Kala cycle she delivered an album that was harsh and by no means 'accessible', in fact it isolated many fans, and bewildered critics. It was polarising. Many thought that after the release of Maya, M.I.A. had lost her way. However that couldn't of been more wrong, fast forward to November 2013 and she presents us with Matangi; an album that is the embodiment of M.I.A. Matangi is a bombastic experience that oozes the Sri-Lankan's essence with every beat, rhyme and detail.
While the album begins in a fairly laid back fashion, it doesn't stay that way, 'Karmageddon' is merely the prelude to the climax and that climax is consistently upheld throughout. From the title track onwards (until 'Lights'), the album delivers hit after hit. It immediately goes full-speed, developing into a exotic, aggressive, pulsating and confident journey. It's unrelenting, whether it be the schizophrenic, beautifully cultured production or cocky, tongue and cheek rhymes with a sprinkle of political venom. Matangi is an album with a warped sense of sentiment and passion, its roots firmly placed in M.I.A.'s Sri-Lankan heritage and because of this, the listening experience is at times abrasive and completely bizarre. However, it has a positive effect on the body of work, it solidifies Matangi, allowing it to be truly organic. Take 'Come Walk With Me' as an example, a stab at a 'pop' single, however the beat change up just under half-way through isn't welcoming and it's fairly out there, yet completely captivating. It does the song justice, it gives it a sense of personality and is in fact the best part of it. Most of the beats are actually what makes the songs so good, the production defines Matangi in a way like no other. Without this particular curve-ball, I'm not quite sure M.I.A. would of succeeded in such a way. While the production holds the album together, essentially steering the content in the right direction, her lyricism can be lead astray, it seems at times she gets carried away- she becomes engrossed and loses sight. Her rhyming isn't always on point and at times can be fairly cliche and dare i say, poor. But the production continues to propel the listener forward, regardless of what mishaps pop up along the way. In many ways this is the female equivalent of 'Yeezus' in terms of its sheer scope and musical ambition, which some could mistake for recklessness.
At times that ambition causes problems, M.I.A. has managed to present an album that is excellently flawed, her incohesive manner (what she actually aims to achieve with her message, in particular) is confusing. From political jabs to not-so-subtle hints about having sex and being 'a bad girl'. The content is flippant, not only in direction but in delivery. Furthermore, there is one gaping hole in the album, 'Lights', which is by far the worst track. It's different but not in a good way, it completely slows down the pace of the album in a lackluster manner. A mellow end to an album such as this would be fitting but with precision and finesse, rather than a half-baked attempt at a four minute plus oddity. Another gripe, though minor is the similarity of the tracks 'Exodus' and 'Sexodus'(both sampling The Weeknd) which are essentially the same song, just the structure and beat have been tampered with. There is no change in vibe, nor subject matter; she could of replaced 'Sexodus' completely or ended the album three tracks earlier with the almighty 'Bring The Noize'. The aforementioned track is M.I.A. at her best, fluid rhymes, chaotic, swirling synths and menacing drums come together to create a sizzling experience that holds no punches. Although M.I.A. stumbles along the way, the dips in quality are few and far between and it doesn't become too apparent until much later into the album. As a modern artist who is perhaps seen in a more 'mainstream' light by a section of her audience who are oblivious to anything but the radio or magazines, one which is accustom to something sugary and subtly devoid; M.I.A. manages to create an album that isn't diluted nor overly convoluted (i.e- too artsy), with great success.
Although Matangi can be inconsistent with quality, her commanding demeanor and sheer brazen, balls-to-the wall attitude outweighs such discrepancies. She's managed to create an album that isn't dull, it's just a matter of execution that makes certain choices questionable. Her lack of musical conformity is what makes her the artist that she is, she's in her own niche, with her own agenda and nothing can change that. Her music is compelling and undoubtedly fun because of it, the freedom she allows creates some truly outstanding moments, especially sonically. With Matangi, M.I.A. has confidently reassured any doubters and naysayers that she is still a force to be reckoned with.