On the track Hussel from 2007’s Kala, M.I.A. declared, “I hate money ‘cause it makes me numb.” But just three years later, she’s humming a different tune. On the track Born Free off of M.I.A.’s newest album /\/\/\Y/\, out today, she states, “ I don’t want to talk about money, ‘cause I got it.” In fact, Maya Arulpragasam would prefer that you forget that she has changed at all in the last few years.
Yes, it’s hard to maintain your street cred as the premier radical political figure of pop music, “pull(ing) up the people,” and, “pull(ing) up the poor,” when, in the three years since your last album, you have become a newlywed, a mother, and are living high on the hog in a lavish gated-community lifestyle. So what is our darling anti-establishment heroine to do? Well if you are following in M.I.A.’s footsteps, you 1) release a music video full of gratuitous violence that is sure to spark controversy and a guaranteed YouTube ban 2) wage a twitter war with any journalist who crosses you or alludes to hypocritical behavior 3) post retaliation songs on your website to inform everyone that nobody can malign you and get away with it.
While all press may be good press in Maya’s opinion, M.I.A.’s PR pitfalls have taken the focus off of the most important piece of the puzzle: the music. But perhaps it is a purposeful oversight. Overall, /\/\/\Y/\ is an uneven jumble saturated in jarring noise and conspiracy theory, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The album aims to embody information overload in the digital age, but holds such an iron grip on its concept that other elements including lyrics and Auto-Tune-laced vocal performances suffer. /\/\/\Y/\ also lacks the powerhouse club bangers that helped her albums Arular (2005) and Kala (2007) top numerous Best Of year-end lists, and has replaced them with mostly forgettable and sometimes languishing tracks.
Lynn Hirshberg, a New York Times Magazine journalist, and the target of M.I.A.’s Twitter tirade has said of M.I.A., “She’s a provocateur, and provocateurs want to be provocative.” It’s just a shame that Maya’s desire to be confrontational and daring comes at the cost of alienating even her most devoted fans, like us. We just hope Maya’s next album has some real heat to back up all of her hot air.
Timbre Tantrum’s rating 2 out of 5 stars.