M.I.A. – AIM (Interscope): No one likes M.I.A. anymore. “Frustratingly unfocused,” writes The Guardian’s Harriet Gibsone. “Poor writing haunts the album,” says Pitchfork’s Kevin Lozano. Her “radical patter is sounding a bit ho-hum,” posits Rolling Stone’s Joe Dolan. See, I love Matangi and Kala, like Arular well enough and bought Maya even though I can’t remember the last time I played it. It’s not that the album’s unfocused (there’s still a healthy mix of her speaking up for marginalized immigrants and blending her own [dis]comfort in her personal life) or that the writing’s bad (lyrically it’s not brilliant but she’s never been too highbrow, and the music’s pretty fucking good cut-for-cut) or that she’s no longer a lefty icon (please). It’s that with the exception of a few tracks (“Visa” and “Fly Pirate” and “Bird Song (Blaqstarr Remix)” in particular) it sounds like the fire’s gone out of her.
Not because she’s bored or out of ideas or drying her well of fun beats. I can only imagine Add to it that the album sounds ever-so-slightly out of date, like the kid who shows up on the playground with her new light-up kicks the day after they go out of style, and it sounds like it’s ever-so-slightly off beat, the way D4nny does on his Tim and Eric-caliber “Goodbye.” Anyone not already acclimated to her habit of repeating words or short phrases to create a wall of sound as though she were hitting a single key on a keyboard again and again will be even more aggravated with even her best track. But her continued incorporation of South Asian music—in traditional and non-traditional ways—remains one of her strongest points. The kazoo-like buzz that carries “Bird Song,” the buoyant strings on “Ali R U OK?” and the percussion on “Visa” melding with elements of Western hip-hop only further serve her simple narrative that there’s not much too scary about other countries.
I still like M.I.A. And I’m sure I’ll still buy this album, which despite my initial misgivings I like quite a bit. If I’m not careful, I might end up loving it. B PLUS (***)