You either “get” M.I.A. or you don’t. There seems to be very little middle-ground with the often contradictory artist hailing from Hounslow via Sri Lanka. Her fourth studio album, ‘Matangi’, does little to appease non-fans and delivers an abundance of what original fans have loved – bombastic beats, mashed-up vocals and enough unique identity that would make a moustached-hipster from East London gawp in awe. Her sound doesn’t so much as hit you round the head as put a bag over it, throw you in a boot of a car and drive you to a rave in a forest… sponsored by Versace. The album is named after a Hindu goddess (in fact M.I.A.’s first name is Mathangi) and poses as her “spiritual album”, whether listeners achieve a certain state of higher consciousness is up for debate but there is no denying that M.I.A. is trying to achieve a sonic state of nirvana with this new offering. One has to at least give her credit for trying.
After fevered grumblings with her record label Interscope that saw the album get delayed by quite some time, she hyped the album as sounding like “Paul Simon on acid”. The album’s mystical element provides the opening on ‘Karmageddon’, a sitar gives way to the “om” mantra which then blends effortlessly with the minimalistic beat and staccato bass. “Things do move like sound / Waves do move like round” she sings in her laid-back-almost-horizontal fashion. As ever her lyrics are blunt, and some could say far too simplistic, but there’s always a sense that she’s trying to probe the listeners mind.
Title-track ‘Matangi’ with its tribal rhythm and vocal onslaught sees her in familiar territory, “Preach like a priest / I sing like a whore” she muses after having listed off a whole load of countries around the world. With its trap beat refrain and sly dig at Drake (“We started at the bottom but Drake gets all the credit”) it oozes confidence and swagger. Production duties on the album are spread across numerous big-time hit-makers. Long time collaborator Switch, alongside the likes of Hit-boy (Kanye West, Eminem) and Danja (Britney Spears, Madonna), provide a euphoric soundscape which at the turn of a dial switches from electronic banger (‘Attention’) to reggae-infused club hit (‘Double Bubble Trouble’, which moves from reggae to snare-heavy trap music).
‘Bad Girls’ is hands down the most impressive track on the album, and despite it being released as early as January of this year still sounds fresh and sizzling now as it did back then. With its Eastern-flavoured lead and beautifully crafted beat M.I.A. shows a glimpse of her undeniable talent and what she can bring to the table. The video (directed by Roman Gavras) is a truly wonderful piece of visual art which accompanies the piece perfectly. There’s a sense that had the album been able to be completed according to M.I.A.’s direction rather than the bottom-line-watching record label, then there could have been more like this and that can only provide optimism for the future of this talented artist.