Nearly two years after the release of “Bad Girls”, one of M.I.A.’s biggest singles to date, as well as a slew of three additional pre-releases, we now finally have the mother album to go with these albumless tracks, Matangi. After the non-success of her last album, MAYA (which I personally thought to be great) M.I.A. hit a creative wall, in which she was not only struggling with studio execs pressuring her to make another Kala, but was also suffering from some mild writers block. The good news is the frustration between artist and studio didn’t seem to have too much of an effect on the overall outcome of the album. After a trip to India she found inspiration from her Hindu roots in the goddess Matangi, the Hindu Divine Mother that governs music, knowledge and art. Fairly fitting I’d say, and her inspiration has led to yet another solid effort from our favorite English-Sri Lankan dub/electronica/world/hip-hop artist.
“Only 1 U”, “Warriors”, and “Bad Girls” show M.I.A.’s harder side. She goes off the walls with wordplay and Ke$ha-esque vocal tricks in “aTENTion” (a song in which close friend Julian Assange allegedly helped put together), and even sexier R&B inspired moments like “Exodus” and “Sexodus”, both featuring The Weeknd. These are all examples of how Matangi pulls M.I.A. into areas she has not breached before, yet finds success in now. I am also still happy to hear her pull in some of the sounds from the past as well with tracks like “Bring the Noize” and “Come Walk With Me”, a combo of something that would have resided on MAYA (first half of the song) and Kala (second half).
Every once in a while I do experience slight boredom from repetition. In some points during tracks like “Mantangi”, and “Y.A.L.A” I can’t tell if I zone out because I have fallen into a repetition induced hypnosis, or if the track is driving me insane. As well as tracks like “Lights”, and “Know It Aint’ Right” that could have just been scrapped from the album all together. All that to say, for an album that is nearly a full hour long it does seem to fly by with minimal low points and lots of highs. If you are still expecting to get another “Paper Planes” type hit out of M.I.A. you better stick with Kala, but for some fresh beats with that classic brand of M.I.A.’s poignant lyrics, danceable melodies, and fast rhymes, enjoy some Matangi.
This is one of those weird situations where I agree pretty much exactly with Todd’s rating, but not his analysis of the album. Maybe we just like different aspects of the different shades M.I.A. brings to an album. Or maybe Todd just has poor taste. All jabs aside, I’m sure it’s the former. “Lights” brings something completely different than what we normally get on an M.I.A. album. The backing is almost exclusively maracas and bongo. M.I.A. has to carry the track with just her voice, and I love that she took on this challenge, creating a hypnotic little gem.
In addition, I also like “Know It Ain’t Right” quite a bit. The track is easily the track most influenced by straight-up pop music, with a beat that might as well be ripped straight from a Nicki Minaj album. But once again, M.I.A. carries the track easily on a track focusing more on singing than her talk-rap mode. While she does her bombastic combinations of sound very well on Matangi, I love seeing M.I.A. go in a different direction. “Come Walk With Me” also succeeds greatly as a radio-ready hook, dissolving into an extemelely danceable delight.
Beyond the above tracks, most of the rest of the album is pretty standard M.I.A., which I mean as a good thing. I’m a little annoyed “Bad Girls”, which was released two years ago, still made the album, but that’s how the recording industry operates these days. The other detriment is that a few of the tracks (namely “Y.A.L.A.” and “Bring the Noize”), devolve a little to heavily into run-of-the-mill dub constructs. They’re still catchy as hell, but not as challenging as what producer Switch has typically delivered on behalf of M.I.A.
As boring as it is, we are all pretty much equally pleased with M.I.A.’s latest. I went a half point lower, just because I am not sure how much I will return to this album compared to her first two, although this is no doubt a step in the right direction from her last album, the mostly disappointing M.A.Y.A. I agree that “Come Walk With Me” is an instant classic, and will probably belong on my best songs of the year shortlist. Also, coming off the stench of the Eminem review royale, it’s refreshing to hear samples used tastefully like on “Exodus” and “Sexodus” which very tastefully use the Weeknd’s “Lonely Star” by taking the essence of the song and multiplying it in energy in the first, and cutting it in half in the latter.
In general, I really love the vibe of this album. It’s really playful, hyperactive, and generally positive for someone who tends to be sour grapes. “ATENTion” is a really fun wordplay exercise with a few real oddball samples that play well. It’s a nice look for someone who is usually the female version of Kanye West in terms of divisiveness. In terms of the argument about “Lights” and “Know It Ain’t Right”, I will side with Austin in saying these are refreshing experiments and changes of pace from the rest of the album. This is a strong if not groundbreaking new album, which sets M.I.A. back on the right path.
Aggregate Score: 8.3/11
Can’t Miss: “Come Walk With Me”, “Exodus”, “Bad Girls”, “aTENTion”
Can’t Hit: Unable to agree on these.