Review Summary: Don’t mention Yeezus
M.I.A. turns contradictions into an art. She’s a millionaire but outspokenly anti-establishment. She frequently entangles herself the kinds of controversies her fellow pop stars would never dare touch, even if they were allowed to. She’s a 38 year old woman in a genre dominated by male youth and misogyny. She’s a female pop star with a feminist attitude but occasionally dabbles with female sexualisation anyway. Her music blends Western hip hop and pop with ‘World’ influences. Her art in general mixes hip hop extravagance with Hindu imagery with politically charged and socially aware lyricism with often OTT and seemingly nonsensical spirituality (listen to the end of “Y.A.L.A.”).
Whilst some resent her for her brash attitude and perceived hypocrisy, it’s refreshing to have someone with that level of exposure both in control of their own art and creating something so unique and engaging with it. Matangi
embodies this personality more completely than maybe anything M.I.A. has yet released, following on well from 2010’s Vicki Leekx
mixtape but injecting an even greater Kanye-style spunk and amplifying the bass-heavy production into something even darker and even better. Switch handles most of the production on the album and his impressively simple quasi-industrial beats match both the spiritual and the irate sides of M.I.A.’s lyricism whilst retaining the pounding melodic and rhythmic qualities of club music, especially on the booming intro “Karmageddon” and the sweat-dripping title track. Danja and The Partysquad deserve credit for the album’s highlights however; “Bad Girls”’s Arabic influenced synth line is both the perfect representation of M.I.A.’s bipolar style and catchy as all hell. “Double Bubble Trouble” is just a potential club-banger.
“Bring The Noize” focuses more on M.I.A.’s in-your-face vocals and she still has that delightful way of morphing her rapping into half sung hooks, with “Bad Girls” possible the best song she’s ever released. “Exodus” and “Sexodus” may be distracting if you already know The Weeknd’s “Lonely Star” but there are some interesting harmonies to explore within their dense textures if you’re already familiar with the intricacies of the original. Occasionally M.I.A. oversteps the mark when playing around with her vocals though. The vocal effects on “Only 1 U” and “aTENTion” grate, which is a shame because the shuffling garage influenced production on the latter is exquisite. “Y.A.L.A.”’s vocals are a bit off putting too. Nor are the more pop style tracks like “Come Walk With Me” and “Lights” very interesting, with the notable exception of “Know It Ain’t Right”. Despite these blips, it’s great to hear M.I.A.’s sound come together in such a way, and even when she isn’t quite handling it at the helm the incredibly well balanced production is stellar throughout. “Matangi” is the perfect complement to the 2013 anti-pop/anti-commercialism exemplified by Yeezus, whilst embracing catchy hooks and rhythms throughout. But that’s ok. Probably.