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M.I.A. / Matangi: deviating towards a messy end

Matangi, M.I.A.’s third album, isn’t a ‘throwback’, it’s a mess.


Matangi, M.I.A.’s ridiculously delayed album release, finally exploded on to the pile-up of 2013 releases after its prior rejection by Interscope about a year ago – apparently it sounded too happy. Maybe they should have let it lie, because its current state definitely doesn’t do it much justice. Notorious comparisons to Kala and Arular, her second and first albums, have been thrown around, not to mention allusions to Paper Planes – that being the one song  M.I.A. has released that people actually paid attention to, now graced with a several thousand word Wikipedia article. Does anything really steal the spotlight like gunshots and cash register noises? M.I.A. has proven the answer to be a resounding ‘no’.

While Matangi retains all of M.I.A.’s original sass and snark – insulting Drake, whose newest album was coincidentally excellent – it keeps none of Kala’s sun-drenched, reverb-heavy charm. Instead, it adopts a clumsy amalgamation of beats – “Look,” she cries, “I’m channeling my heritage!” All very well, perhaps: a Kala taken way east, if it were done well. Everyone may be encouraging her to deviate from Kala, but she deviates towards an end full of inappropriately-timed drops.

That’s not to say that this one doesn’t have its redeeming factors. Y.A.L.A. (You Always Live Again) actually IS a throwback to the days of Paper Planes – the rest of the album isn’t a throwback, it’s a mess. In any case, ribbing Drake in this instance is apparently a good way to go about a single. Y.A.L.A. brings back a sentiment of taste to Matangi. 

Matangi starts tracks more than once with the soothing sitar noises of a stereotypical Hindu prayer, leading into obnoxious bass; obnoxious about sums up M.I.A., actually. The difference between her previous albums and this one is that this time, it’s not as endearing: maybe we’re all a bit tired of the act, or maybe she’s just not doing it as well these days. However, M.I.A. does manage to reach new levels of intimacy on this record: it’s essentially down to the production, but it sounds like she’s right there. Can’t fault her for that, I guess.

There’s also a very vague reference point to Kitty Pryde’s Dead Island to be found – a glitter to her beats that kind of improves the overall quality of the album. You can sort of see why everyone’s comparing this album to Paper Planes, but not until about three songs in – the choppy reggae-style guitar on Come Walk With Me is reminiscent of Kala, but it quickly dismisses any pleasantries with grating beats and synths. M.I.A. never quite lets you sit still or get comfortable, which is unfortunate.

Honestly, there are also elements of Kanye West’s Yeezus in here – but unlike Kanye, M.I.A. takes the wrong end of the stick. The potential mess of sampling is really evident here, where Yeezus expertly skims over the wreckage, and the comparison is actually heartwrenching.

Last year, M.I.A. claimed that Matangi would sound like “Paul Simon on acid”. This ain’t no Graceland, though, and it’s sad that this is due to be M.I.A.’s legacy – at least for a while. We were hoping she’d go out with a bang.

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