MATANGI (N.E.E.T. / Interscope)
With a fascinating backstory, a radical attitude and an exhilarating style of politically potent, cross-cultural party music, there was a strong argument to be made that Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasm was one of the greatest pop stars of the last decade. But when 2010’s divisive third album // / Y / dropped, the sour backlash ensued, with the New York Times’ ‘Trufflegate’ profile highlighting what her fans would call a ‘dichotomy’ and what her detractors would call shallow posturing and hypocrisy. The latter opinion wasn’t exactly discouraged with lyrics like “economics eats the poor like a Twix”.
But in a year when M.I.A.’s NFL Superbowl scandal has continued to swell her profile, Julian Assange appeared at her concert (via Skype, of course) to declare her “the most courageous woman working in western music, without exception” and Kanye’s unfiltered political rage and has been applauded by the music press, surely it’s time to start taking M.I.A. seriously again? The problem with Matangi, is that it doesn’t feel like she’s taking her own music seriously enough these days. While the inclusion of her incredible single Bad Girls – nearly two years old – reminds you how she can pack a powerful implicit political message without losing her cool, lyrically the rest of the album consists mainly of rhymes so lazy and clunky that they’d make 2 Chainz raise an eyebrow. Instrumentally the record’s as colourful as you’d expect, but too many times the production team have tried to mask Maya’s audible disinterest and dated post-Diplo aesthetic with an overly cluttered and erratic selection of beats. As a result, listening to Matangi feels akin to indulging in an internet binge with 17 tabs open. You’re perpetually curious and never truly bored, but nothing’s actually sinking in. And and once the laptop’s off you’re left with a craving for something more substantial, focused and coherent.
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Words: David Reed