British-Sri Lankan artist M.I.A. is best known for her last two groundbreaking masterpieces, Arular and Kala, her ostentatious sense of fashion featuring neons and weapons, and a very-pregnant performance at the MTV Movie Awards last year. Most people also know about her family’s ties with the Sri Lankan Tamil rebel group, as well as her offbeat political statements. Lately, she’s been criticized for the juxtaposition of her life of luxury and the activist nature of her lyrics. It is because of all of this that her latest album was put on that shaky pedestal of extremely high anticipation.
Faced with this kind of audience anticipation, an artist can either work with the known and create a similar body of work, or go a different route completely. What really seems to work is when the artist is capable of going further, but also capable of keeping intrinsic elements as a part of that experimentation. However, when an artist like M.I.A., whose previous albums are so well-produced, tries to do a little of this and a little of that on her latest album, the experimentation makes her music unrecognizable and occasionally watered down.
/\/\/\Y/\, the typographic equivalent of M.I.A.’s legal name, Maya, and her first album released on her self-made label N.E.E.T. (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) was largely inspired by the Internet. Some interesting tracks include the intro , “The Message,” which creates a type of tribal paranoia for the technological zeitgeist, interconnecting technology with the government. Chainsaws cut through another strong track, “Steppin Up,” which is a type of sonic reunion with her previous two albums.
“XXXO” is one of the “Huh?” parts of the record, however. Although this melodic track is well-produced, the song itself lacks something. Another watered-down example is “It Iz What It Iz.” Do chainsaws work in these songs? Probably not. More importantly, do these songs sound like M.I.A.? They don’t seem to. Compared to the in-your-face songs we’re used to, these songs are uninteresting. Amidst this sonic awkwardness, the album is revived once again by the ear-piercing and abrasive “Teqkilla,” as well as one of the coolest, sexiest tracks, the Tricky-esque “Believer,” featuring Blaqstarr. However, ultimately, even these songs are too weak to carry M.I.A.’s bold conceit in the chaotic way that Arular or Kala did.
Indeed, Ms. Arulpragasam, you were faced with the hard task of living up to and going beyond your two previous albums. Maybe you got carried away. What goes up must come down… but what goes down must also come up, right?