Clash Essential 50 – Number 7

M.I.A., 'Arular'

The Clash Essential 50, in a nutshell: the 50 greatest, most significant, downright brilliant albums of Clash’s lifetime. We need them, which means you, too, most probably need them.

Why? Clash celebrates its fifth birthday in April. It’s not an anniversary to make too much of a fuss about – we’ll save that for our tenth, thank you very much – but worth marking all the same. And what better way to look forward to the next few years of Clash than a look back at some of our ‘greatest hits’.

The Clash Essential 50 was compiled by the core Clash editorial team – should you disagree with any of our selections, which will be counted down throughout April, you know where to go to have your own opinion heard.

For the top ten, we’re focusing on one album at a time – the best of the best needs its own space. Catch up with numbers 50 to 11 via the links below…


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Clash Essential 50 – Number 7
M.I.A., ‘Arular’
(2005; XL)

M.I.A.’s debut ‘Arular’ was released on a wave of expectation after Internet leaks and an incredible M.I.A. / Diplo mixtape, ‘Piracy Funds Terrorism’, had exposed our quivering ears to the singer/producers duo’s heavy bass enthusiasm. What was delivered didn’t disappoint.

This is an intense and energetic record, overflowing with harsh, syncopated beats dragged straight up out of the South American slums and exotic culture references relating to M.I.A.’s displaced youth as a Sri Lankan living in India and London.

But there is a potential problem with the record, which is copying. The worst example – but also one of the best tracks – is ‘Bucky Done Gun’. The track was a long-time club smash, but its backing track and vocal rhythm were copied off a Brazilian baile-funk hit called ‘Injecao’ by Deise Tigrona. If you’ve never heard the original, you’ll be surprised.

But M.I.A. can be forgiven, even praised from using her influences in such a direct way. Plundering other people’s cultures is the order of modern life. The difference between working with and stealing from any culture is a thin line in capitalist society, and M.I.A. is stamping all over that line like a true (if not infallible) attaché for the political zeitgeist.

Track-by-track, ‘Arular’ is a masterclass in genre production, making the most of new sounds that, at the time, were unfamiliar to our tender European brains. Baile-funk, reggaeton, kuduro – they’re all represented. ‘Galang’ – one of M.I.A.’s first, breakthrough tracks – has a distinct grime influence to add into the mix of sounds from foreign climes. “London calling, speak the slang,” it starts, as the sub bass warbles and the song breaks into a thumping dancefloor stomper.

‘Sunshowers’ is a call back to M.I.A.’s native Sri Lanka and is full of the freshness of rain and the comfort of home, while ‘Fire Fire’ is a more urgent memory of Sri Lanka; of a time in the grip of insurgency led by militant Tamil separatist groups, of whom M.I.A.’s father was a supporter.

The charge of unoriginality can’t really be levelled at an artist whose slew of influences stretches from New York to New Delhi. M.I.A. and producer Diplo’s skill is to unite so many chaotic, dissident cultural voices on one record, through M.I.A.’s often nonchalant, but always inspiring, vocal performances.

Words: Jonny Ensall

M.I.A. – ‘Sunshowers’

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The Clash Essential 50 so far…

50: The Killers, ‘Hot Fuss’
49: Kasabian, ‘Kasabian’
48: Deerhunter, ‘Microcastle’
47: Bat For Lashes, ‘Fur and Gold’
46: Vampire Weekend, ‘Vampire Weekend’
45: MGMT, ‘Oracular Spectacular’
44: Portishead, ‘Third’
43: Elbow, ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
42: Amy Winehouse, ‘Back To Black’
41: Santigold, ‘Santigold’
40: Late Of The Pier, ‘Fantasy Black Channel’
39: Sigur Rós, ‘Takk…’
38: Efterklang, ‘Parades’
37: Liars, ‘Drum’s Not Dead’
36: The White Stripes, ‘Get Behind Me Satan’
35: Hot Chip, ‘The Warning’
34: Fleet Foxes, ‘Fleet Foxes’
33: Benga, ‘Diary Of An Afro Warrior’
32: Feist, ‘The Reminder’
31: Broadcast, ‘Tender Buttons’
30: Battles, ‘Mirrored’
29: Klaxons, ‘Myths Of The Near Future’
28: Tunng, ‘Mother’s Daughter And Other Songs’
27: The Libertines, ‘The Libertines’
26: Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’
25: Apparat, ‘Walls’
24: Burial, ‘Burial’
23: Gallows, ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’
22: Caribou, ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’
21: Broken Social Scene, ‘Broken Social Scene’
20: Sufjan Stevens, ‘Illinois’
19: Soulwax, ‘Nite Versions’
18: The Bug, ‘London Zoo’
17: Brian Wilson, ‘SMiLE’
16: Isolée, ‘We Are Monster’
15: My Morning Jacket, ‘Z’
14: Franz Ferdinand, ‘Franz Ferdinand’
13: Joanna Newsom, ‘Ys’
12: Modeselektor, ‘Hello Mom!’
11: Bloc Party, ‘Silent Alarm’
10: Animal Collective, ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’
9: J Dilla, ‘Donuts’
8: Arctic Monkeys, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’
7: M.I.A., ‘Arular’

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