There are a host of great female artists that the sound of M.I.A. may be lazily categorized with simply because of gender. Such a cursory estimation of content short-changes both artist and listener. When so many female performers play to the crowd displaying faux-shock aggressive sexuality, M.I.A. retains the sexual strut of Radical Chic but deals with aspects of life beyond the bedroom and the dance floor.
Maya has to be the definitive album of the artist’s career to date. From the outset “The Message,” M.I.A pins her colors to the mast, perhaps higher and more vivid than ever before. Everything, she suggests, is connected to the government. The remaining tracks kick, scream, sing, and beat an escape from beneath the umbrella of higher powers.
The struggle for freedom, equality, and understanding underpins pretty much every verse. Where the sloganeer may shout “Violence for Equality,” M.I.A. thrashes some pretty violent beats beneath some equalizing lyrics. “You can think big with your idea, You ain’t never gonna find Utopia.’ Is the beautiful, unnerving center-point of “Born Free” which comes through the speakers all sirens, gun-beats, and shuddering aggression.
There’s a refreshing anger to all of this; no such sentiment of ‘why can’t we all just get along,’ since M.I.A. simply, righteously doesn’t want to get along with the bullying perpetrators against her or those in weakened situations. Loving thy enemy is exposed as a naive construct that just doesn’t work in the complicated modern age.
Relentlessly combative M.I.A. takes Pop expectations and turns in something like High Art. There will be further single releases, like the slightly playful “XXXO” which will provide a welcome presence on the airwaves. “Steppin’ Up,” abrasive musically and lyrically from the intro, arrives like a set of tuned-up chainsaws. It’s Sound Art that you can dance to.
On past occasions, both MTV and The New York Times have seen fit to stop broadcast or print of M.I.A.’s videos and opinions. It’s utterly shameful that any artist, trying to instigate more than a superficial discussion in any subject, should be denied a forum. M.I.A. embarks on addressing the contradictions of the human condition — how so many of us can be two things simultaneously. ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ are simply down to perspective. Surely concepts of faith, politics, and gender are not the holy preserve of stiffs and intellectuals. M.I.A. is a savvy practitioner of Pop Culture. The great irony is that an artist singing for a greater need of personal and political freedoms is met with proof of why she needs to sing louder. Maya is a resounding answer to the stifling, lazy journalism and ‘think-by-numbers’ approach of so many. Love or hate M.I.A because of what you’ve heard and considered for yourself. This most recent outing may be a challenge to some, but to those who enjoy challenge or to those who simply think outside the box, Maya is both a rewarding and exciting venture, best played loud.
For Fans Of: Audio Bullys, Lily Allen, Diplo, Santigold
Standout Tracks: “Steppin’ Up,” “Lovalot,” “XXXO,” “Born Free”