Not a revolution yet

M.I.A. album "Matangi" overbearing, complex

On the track “Y.A.L.A.,” after a marathon of nightmarishly abrasive electronic percussion, multilayered vocals, and an overuse of dubstep, Mathangi Arulpragasam gives a moment of silence with just the isolated lyrics: “If we only live once, why we keep doing the same s***?”

Though the question is pointed at Drake, an artist who M.I.A. continually attacks on her album, ironically the criticism seems most applicable to her own work on “Matangi.” From the title track on, with only a couple of interesting exceptions, M.I.A. confidently throws a debris of Bollywood-inspired electronic instrumentals, loud, fast lyrics, and unexpected melodic shifts in each entry. It is hard to parse out any structure on these tracks, and though this may seem experimental and intriguing, it gets tiresome about a third of the way through the album. Unfortunately, it just keeps going.

Stylistically, M.I.A. has taken a page out of Kanye West’s book by using the same sort of jarring, stripped-down sounds that permeated “Yeezus.” The problem is that M.I.A. never realizes such abrasiveness works best when it is simplified and minimalistic. “Matangi” is anything but minimal.

The truly fatal flaw in M.I.A.’s effort, however, is a lack of unawareness of what makes her good. I went into this album wanting desperately to root for M.I.A., but cheering becomes difficult when her unique voice and rapping style are buried beneath so much noise.

There are notable exceptions to the album’s mediocrity, moments of true simplicity and accessibility. The first is “Come Walk With Me,” a message to M.I.A.’s haters inviting them to enjoy her music regardless of their preconceived notions about her style. The vocals are poppy and lush, and unlike most of the album’s offerings, it features a clear verse-chorus structure.

The second notable addition is the previously released track “Bad Girls.” This track, with its pro-female rallying cry, sports the kind of swagger that has made M.I.A. so charismatic and interesting. “Bad Girls” is the essential entry on “Matangi,” the most perfect blend of Indian melodies, typical M.I.A. vocals, and occasional experimentation the album has to offer.

Aside from a few other moments of brilliance on the album, these are the only tracks that actually deliver. But even though sitting through the album is almost unbearable, it is still hard to ignore “Matangi”’s ambition to create more than a slew of unoriginal chart-toppers. M.I.A. is getting at something here, experimenting with huge complexity on almost every track. Even if she flies too close to the sun, at least she decided to fly.

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