Fearless, provocative, uber-cool: Mathangi Arulpragasam - more commonly known as M.I.A. - is many things. In a career spanning more than a decade, her politically focused, kaleidoscopic take on popular music has seen her labelled as both prophetess and cultural icon. And as a messenger for a generation of music lovers increasingly disillusioned with the political status quo, she’s the almost perfect pop star for the Digital Age. Fifth album 'AIM' finds M.I.A. in her typical dual role as both polemicist and beat-maker, leapfrogging from one genre to the next with the disdain for convention that’s made her style impossible to categorise since her inception.
Thematically, 'AIM' is a critique of the borders we erect not only between nations, but between each other – social, political, and religious. MIA’s M.O. since the release of 2005 debut album Arular has been swiping at the Establishment. The subject matter of 'AIM' is therefore not surprising; since last album 'Matangi' was released in 2013 the artificial borders of the world have never felt more molten - whether national (Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea), economic (Britain’s impending withdrawal from the EU), or theological (theocracy’s growing stranglehold on the Middle East). All of which contribute to the thematic backdrop of 'AIM'.
Sadly, the LP suffers at times from the same issue that marred her previous works 'Matangi' and 'MAYA' – the content too often fails to mirror the breadth of her vision and the scope of the grandiose subjects she tackles. ‘Bird Song’ aims for the off-kilter but, with its inane barrage of avian puns, skirts with parody. And ‘Jump In’ and ‘Fly Pirate’ are as lackluster as they are forgetful. There’s brilliance though, and occasionally she perfectly navigates the fine line between zany and heady that she pioneered on first two albums 'Arular' and 'Kala'. This is best exemplified on opening track – and album stand-out - ‘Borders’, a blistering critique of the ego and hypocrisy that lurks within us all. Elsewhere the East-West fusion that has become her trademark is employed to dazzling effect on ‘Survivor’ and ‘Freedun’.
If her earlier comments are to be believed, 'AIM' will be MIA’s final album. Though there’s a glimmer of hope for fans: on a recent REDDIT AMA, she avoided answering questions seeking confirmation that 'AIM' would be her last LP. This is reassuring. 'AIM' may be not the magnum opus that Mathangi Arulpragasam is capable of, but the music world would be a good deal less colourful and quirky without her in it.
Words: Benji Taylor
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