Album Review: M.I.A. and the Anti-Pop Revolution

Thick with anti-pop and anti-capitalist juke tracks, it’s been a delight watching Maya Arulpragasam progress from her fluid third world hoots and howls to the first world, war wounds and confession of industrialization, guilt and urban strife. Arulpragasam victoriously admits her feminist and humanist stance when she tells her trials as a woman and her issues with privileged, first world economics when she states, “I don’t wanna talk about money cus I got it / I don’t wanna talk about hoochies cus I been it.” Finally a pop star that reflects the strength and sophistication of the world’s masses. Without the usual brand of degrading lyrics, here’s a beautiful brown woman with the guts to take on the music industry and who refuses to “be somebody who she’s really not.” The album triumphantly refuses contemporary pop expectations of a sexpot singer, while conveying a tireless war on U.S. American complacency and ignorance. Maya’s been asking her listeners to challenge authority and to pay attention to the imperialist world we live in since the beginning of her career, but I wonder if anyone’s actually been listening.

“The Message,” resounds loud and clear. “Head bones connected to the headphones / headphones connected to the iphone / iphone connected to the Internet connected to the google connected to the government.” Amped up with adequately abrasive industrial engines and drill sounds, jet planes roaring through the tracks and mortal combat, video game battle moments, it may take a couple listens to let the trajectory of the album hone in on your subconscious. Arulpragasam’s lyricism doesn’t shine through the way she previously carried through with swag and sophistication in her earthier Kala and Arular releases, but M.I.A.’s  message reverberates regardless. You may have to blare the album louder than most to hear past the deep subs and ruckus rabble of the album, but it’s there. Maya never disappoints, and I’m sure the London art student in her, admittingly made the album as ambiguously interpretive as possible. Like any piece of art, we have to peel past the initial experience into the subconscious and the underlying politics inherent to the artist’s situation.

With her 4th production, drawing from her 2004 released Piracy Funds Terrorism baile funk bounce, “Internet Connection,” promises to keep Brazil and all the Chicago house parties popping. “XXXO,” the only pop ballet, is simple and sweet, a soon-to-be radio hit. Lush with booty tracks and juke delights like “Teqkilla,” you can do your revolutionary work out in the morning and fight the man all night long with the softer, more revealing tracks such as reggae inspired and empowering love song, “It Takes a Muscle.” Maya continues to reveal her softer side, despite the initial tracks on the album. R&B infused “Caps Lock,” sways like a lullaby to her new born. Arulpragasam has evolved her world beat revolution into personal and divulging introspection. Though Maya may front as a rough rider, tough girl, we’re starting to see through her proud and defiant militancy into her Aaliyah moments. A glorious combination of tributes to her indie-rock, Elastica album art tour days, full of rock riffs and heavy metal meets hip-hop tracks like the rockabily-punk, “Born Free” and acid-rock juke track, “Meds and Feds,” will keep the social and cultural revolution alive and kickin’.

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