Review: M.I.A. – Matangi

Ben Jones 15 November 2013

Her controversial public exploits may have made M.I.A. a high- profile figure, but she’s never really been part of the hip- hop hegemony. She’s always had the ability to write brilliantly immediate pop singles such as ‘Paper Planes’ and ‘XXXO’. However, her full-length albums have always been more experimental. Matangi finds M.I.A. on less inventive form, but the record is still a fascinating listen.

After the placidly ambient opener ‘Karmageddon’, the only saving grace of which is the brilliantly ridiculous title pun, the album kicks into gear with ‘MATANGI’. The track is a manic collaboration of M.I.A.’s trademark percussion and animal-noise sampling, although it feels slightly too much like a watered-down version of what we’ve heard from her before.

The opening of ‘Warriors’ offers a brief change of pace, but once again the relentless percussion and lazy vocal delivery dominates the track; considering the length of gestation for this album, too many of its songs sound like M.I.A. on autopilot.

Having said that, if her attempts to deviate from her core sound are all as cloying as the ballad ‘Come Walk with Me’, then such innovation is probably best left to her more original contemporaries.

The second half of Matangi is more fun at least. It’s still not M.I.A. at her culture-subverting best, but there are at least some tunes. It’s interesting that the two most interesting tracks on the album are collaborations with The Weekend: ‘Exodus’ and ‘Sexodus’. It suggests that when given less of a free reign, M.I.A. creates far more coherent music. The 2012 single ‘Bad Girls’ feels out of place on this record, being a perfectly realised three-minute pop song, and has an immediacy that improves Matangi instantly. ‘Y.A.L.A’ is lyrically dubious, with some seriously ill-considered rhymes (Cointreau and Poncho?) but redeems itself by being, to quote a fellow Girton hip-hop enthusiast, “an absolute banger”.

Overall it is hard to shake off the feeling that, as with most of M.I.A.’s output, a severe trim would have made this perfectly acceptable 15 song album into a really good 10 track record. As it is, Matangi is the sound of M.I.A., the perpetual progressive, standing still and really playing it quite safe. And that’s just a waste.