The publicity and anticipation for the new M.I.A. album, ///Y/, have been building up for a minute and a half (Internet Standard Time) now. Ms. Maya Arulpragasam (-Bronfman?) took over Twitter feeds, gave out interviews, executed red-headed children (only on TV), and released pieces of the album for months in advance. In one NY Times interview, she got drilled hard, and hit back by posting the writer’s phone number on Twitter. Not cool. The building pressure was released this past Tuesday, when the album finally came out. Now we can talk about the music, which, under the M.I.A. aegis, is usually stellar.
Unfortunately, Ms. Maya fell short of my expectations on this album. I was pumped for it, as every album since the Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape has been better and better. M.I.A. usually seems a step ahead of the game, but on this album the pack has caught up to her and it’s she that is nipping at their heels.
“XXXO”, one of the landmark tracks on this album, sounds as if The Pussycat Dolls, not to mention Mary MaGagadalena, could have been done better. I’m not saying those ladies are more talented than M.I.A., but that is the class she is running in if she continues down this path. This album has no soul.
The album is devoid of any melody. It’s just a cell phone on vibrate going off inside a dud of a suitcase bomb. The song “Teqkilla” goes on for an unfathomable 6 minutes and 20 seconds, like someone forgot to turn off the MPC before they went to grab a Scooby snack. Then your little brother sneaks in and starts running his Matchbox cars all over the turntable while no one’s looking.
M.I.A.’s vocals seem to have lost their fire, also. People said she was singing more on this album. Really? All I hear is a very detached drawl that droops out of the speakers like wilting orchids. For example, in the song “Lovalot” she can barely get the phrase out, which makes it seem like she is making a snappy double or triple entendre. I’m not so sure one was intended.
One of the only songs I like is “It Takes a Muscle”, but I really like super cheesy reggae songs sometimes, just for their humor without artist volition. This is such an insipid song that I really love it. It sounds like MC Lyte singing Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” after being roofied. And I can’t get enough of it.
For similar reasons, I also like “It Iz What It Iz”. I think I also like these songs because they are the only ones that have a modicum of melody. The synth sample is a nice one, and on this track M.I.A. displays some vocal chops that build throughout. Now, mind you, no one else will like or remember these songs. I’m just weird like that.
“Born Free” has so much energy, is so far on the other side of the spectrum of spirit, that it doesn’t even feel like it belongs on the album. Pretty hype track, though.
The song “Meds and Feds” was also very disappointing to me, but not only because of M.I.A. I was excited to hear that she was doing a collab with Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells, who I like a little bit. But the song is recycled off the title track from the debut Sleigh Bells album Treats. What the hell?!?! Can we come up with something original, please, for this crucial third album? How could this happen? And Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss, the newcomer, rocks it harder vocally.
“Tell Me Why” is a Gospel According to Mess. The song is just boring, plain and simple. What more can be said? “Space” is more of the same, just taking up the subject of the title. “Internet Connection”: Was she drunk on copier toner? Let’s just skip the “bonus tracks.” I’m trying not to be mean here.
I am disappointed by this album because I liked M.I.A.’s earlier work and expected more and better, but it also has some producers that I was really hyped on hearing her work with. The one I was most familiar with was Rusko, who has produced some cracking tracks in his career. That is not the case here. It’s not over, but this was not a step forward for him or Ms. Maya.
Earlier this week, I posited that money does nothing to help raise the quality of an artist’s work. Unfortunately, ///Y/ becomes Exhibit A entered into evidence on behalf of the prosecution. Not to get too personal, but it must be mentioned that the artist had a child and became engaged to the son of billionaires during the making of this album. Um, the prosecution rests? She lacked hunger and it showed.
I’m not saying that this is the end of MIA as a musical artist, but she’s been knocked down. She needs to display the will it takes to get up off the mat.