Maya Arulpragasam was right.
It seems only fair to begin there. In 2010, the world rolled it’s eyes and probably grumbled something about truffled french fries at the lyric, “connected to Google, connected to the government.” Then along came Edward Snowden.
This shouldn’t have anything to do with a review of Matangi, but it does, if only because it points out the fact it’s impossible to remove the music from the polarizing person who makes it. The damn thing was delayed a year by disputes with the record label and Julian Assange helped out on a track (“aTENTion”). She flat out addresses the overblown outrage at her bird-flipping Super Bowl performance. It’s not like any of this can be ignored.
As a long-awaited follow-up, Matangi is as relieving as it is exciting. There are more hooks and melodies, not too mention much more energy. “Bad Girls,” now several years old, is biggest hit she’s written since “Paper Planes” and the reggae sounds and constantly shifting club beats on “Double Bubble Trouble” are almost mainstream-friendly. Her voice sounds petulant as always. “Bring the Noize” features her most impressive rapping yet, though the rhymes aren’t always perfect. Her sweetly slurry singing on “Lights” almost doesn’t sound like her. Whether she’s playing sweet(ish) on “Come Walk With Me” or assaulting your ears on “Bring the Noize,” M.I.A. doesn’t sound like anyone else. The Bollywood samples, digital vocal stutters and electronic cacophony are as often stunning as they are confusing.
M.I.A. makes music in the present, for the present (and sometimes it feels like the future). It’s in the government surveillance theories, the fraught relationship with technology and the complete digital madness of the production. Her music is a retort to the complaint that new ideas have become scarce and that electronic music is being crushed by the dubstep behemoth. It’s as excellent as it is antagonizing. Matangi is a middle finger.