M.I.A.- /\/\ /\ Y /\ (2010): (52%)
In his 4.4/10 review for Pitchfork Media, Matthew Perpetua pondered as to whether this album was half-assed or half-baked. On a superficial level, these terms are synonymous, but there is a difference. Half-assed implies that every track had the potential to live up to more respectable material on previous albums (in M.I.A.’s case, Arular and Kala, which are named after her father and mother, respectively), but was ultimately upstaged by the more alienating aspects. Half-baked, on the other hand, basically means that among the tracks that do hold up well, there are others that could have been left out, or at the very least, modified in such a way that would make them less alienating. As I listened to /\/\ /\ Y /\, or simply Maya, Andy Kellman’s AllMusic review reminded me that this album leans more towards half-baked as he wrote, “There is a brilliant—if brief—EP here.” While this album does make the effort to be at least halfway good, halfway is still about 50%. Considering she wrote the majority of grand slams like the aforementioned critical hits, settling for half does not flatter her being.
Nor does having a scathing profile published by Lynn Hirschberg of the New York Times help either. In it, M.I.A.’s credibility as an inspiring rebel suffers blow after blow as she discusses genocide-like conditions in her native Sri Lanka, and portraying their living conditions as third world…as she eats truffle flavored French Fries at a New York restaurant. As for genocide, “Kadirgamar told me, echoing the sentiments of others, ‘but she only made the situation worse. What happened in Sri Lanka was not a genocide. To not be honest about that or the Tigers does more damage than good. When Maya does a polarizing interview, it doesn't help the cause of justice.’”*
In a nutshell, the NY Times profile was a case of a controversial and incendiary artist getting bit in the ass by her own words and lifestyle. For those who love her music and respect her lyrics, to see what she did in response (post Hirschberg’s phone number on her Twitter) further plummeted her “witty activist” credibility to the point where this album had better be on the same level, if not higher, than her two predecessors if she can expect to maintain a level of dignity.
But, as I said before, this album disappoints. However, to an audience of fans who don’t listen to her music to pick it apart and read between the lines, this album is a suitable follow up to Kala. To fans like me who want to know how exactly M.I.A. is going to continue her bombastic legacy, then yes, I am going to pick it apart and compare it to other works.
“The Message” opens with keyboard tapping noises, much like the ones I’m experiencing now as I type this, and then has thunderous bass come out of left field as she spouts some paranoid paradigm about how our bodies are connected to the internet which is connected to the government. Sure, the beat may be alright for an introduction, but this conspiracy theory comes close to outright justifying Hirschberg’s dislike for M.I.A. The true opening track, “Steppin’ Up,” sounds annoyingly clustered and lost in an array of power tool fury compared to the swagger and danceable qualities of “Bamboo Banga.” It also has a dubstep bit in it, but more sounds like it are sure to follow. M.I.A. previously flirted and hinted towards dubstep, thus making the fairly monotonous genre somehow fresh. On Maya, it, along with her use of Auto-Tune, becomes very stale, very fast. And likewise with Auto-Tune, sure, she used it as more of an attraction on previous albums. Now, she utilizes it as a crutch on songs like, “Tell Me Why,” “XXXO,” and the closing track, “Space.”
Which sucks because “Tell Me Why” could actually belong on that brilliant and brief EP. I could actually ride down Clinton Street in my black Mustang with pride as I crank this song with my windows down, but that fucking Auto-Tune instead makes my journey to work terribly awkward. “Meds and Feds” uses a riff courtesy of Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller, but ruins it later in the song by trying to match their sonic oblivion, which instead comes across as just plain irritating. So, no, “Meds and Feds” does not belong on this EP. “Born Free,” however, deserves a slot the most because she actually uses a sample (courtesy of Suicide) to its fullest potential, even though a dirty mind could easily replace the first word of the title with something more humorous. “Story to Be Told” is alright in its own merit, and I am evenly divided on whether “It Takes a Muscle” deserves a slot too. “Teqkilla” plainly runs on too long, and has an awkward mix, along with “Lovalot.” So yeah, this ‘brilliant’ EP is indeed kind of brief.
So what’s the lesson to be learned from this? If you are going to talk in incendiary terms, make damn sure they aren’t going to come back to haunt you and subject your music to intense scrutiny. Perhaps I am judging this album rather harshly, but considering there hardly isn’t a track on Kala I don’t like, to find patches of fluff on Maya is comparable to a surrender to American electro-dance counterpart, Lady Gaga. Whatever the production process of this album was like, I just hope it’s what M.I.A. needed to do to get whatever it is out of her system, and improve on the next album.
Overall Impression: 5/10
*taken from the New York Times article as written by Lynn Hirschberg. Please don’t sue me.