Friday, July 16, 2010

M.I.A. - Critical meltdown

Check my froThere's a quite extraordinary interview with M.I.A.'s producer, Diplo, over on the Black Book website.

The US DJ, who has worked on all three of M.I.A.'s albums, says the star "didn’t care" about her new record, "didn’t write anything" in the studio, and has "a bunch of yes men around her". Ouch.

The interview comes in the wake of lukewarm reviews for /\/\/\Y/\, which was released on Monday. Several critics have bemoaned a lack of progression in the singer's culture-busting, genre-splicing soundclash style. But I suspect most of them are peeved because she refused to make an entire album of radio-friendly hits like Paper Planes.

That controversial album "in full"My favourite critique came from the All Music Guide, who wrote: "There are moments during MAYA when it seems like M.I.A.'s next move might involve walking into a laundromat, filling the dryers with bricks and silverware, pulling the fire alarm, blaring a drop-forge beat from a tinny boombox, and recording the result."

It's true - but it was also true of her first two records, so why gripe?

Musically, I think the album is great. It scampers back and forth over the (very wide) line that divides sachharine pop melodies from a full-blown intercontinental nuclear assault on your ears.

XXXO, It Takes A Muscle and Teqkilla are shocking, exhilirating and experimental, but they all have tunes your milkman could whistle. Or, to be more precise, tunes your milkman could scream through a loudhailer if he had tourettes.

My problem, therefore, is with the lyrics.

M.I.A. peddles a constant stream of post-millennial paranoia so myopic and blinkered it would make 9/11 conspiracy theorists a little uneasy in their tin foil hats. If we take her word for it, everything bad in the world is a result of Government Control and Corrupt Politicians. At one point, she deliberately mis-pronounces Obama as "a bomber". Ooooh, controversial.

MIA - she's got something to sayIt's not hard to guess the root of her neurosis. M.I.A. grew up in the middle of Sri Lanka's bitter, ongoing civil war. The conflict has been bloody and the tactics morally murky (on both sides). Suspicion is ingrained into her psyche.

But I also grew up in the middle of a conflict - in Northern Ireland - and I learnt a very different lesson: People with strong, immutable opinions are either (a) clowns or (b) clowns exploiting extremism to further their own goals.

So it might be a defence mechanism, but when I heard M.I.A. intoning: "Arm bone connects to the handbone, hand bone connects to the internet, connected to the Google, connected to THE GOVERNMENT" in a voice laden with portent and drama, I laughed so hard I got a hernia.

Anyway, if you put the words to one side (and to be honest, most of the time they're so muddled and processed you can't make them out anyway) you're left with a great album.

Let's just take one more listen to Born Free, as performed with an army of clones on a mainstream US television show:

M.I.A. - Born Free (David Letterman)


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