M.I.A. – M A Y A (XL)

Now this isn’t normally my sort of stuff at all but, like everyone else, I was tempted to view the Youtube video for ‘Born Free’ and to be honest I was way more impressed with the music than the visuals. Very Aphex Twin in sound, it was a major departure from her previous album and so when
‘M A Y A’ came out I thought that it was worth the risk to get a copy. Opener ‘The Message’ is a bit weird – ‘headphones connected to the iphone, iphone connected to the internet connected to the Google connected to the Government’ over a repetitive beat – but I guess she is trying to make a point about something. The first proper song is ‘Steppin’ Up’ and is exactly what I wanted - thundering drums and harsh electronic effects over which Maya intones her lyrics. ‘XXXO’ is a more commercial dance track, with a recognisable chorus and a rhythm that could fill a dance floor in seconds. ‘Teqkilla’ tries to cram in as many alcohol brand names as possible into one song, all set to a juddering electro beat and clinking glasses, and while quite good it does tend to go on a bit too long. ‘Lovalot’ is more rap than dance, with the lyrics being intoned over a wash of beats and effects, but in the end it is one of the less successful tracks on here. ‘Story To Be Told’ is more of the same, although at least this one is a bit more energetic even if it is devoid of any trace of a tune. ‘It Takes A Muscle’ has a lovers rock feel, with its loping reggae stylings, and its recognisable melody and catchy chorus make a nice break from the electro-dance. ‘It Iz What It Iz’ is all groovy trip-hop beats and languid vocals, and then ‘Born Free’ erupts from the speakers, still sounding as great as the first time I heard it. A relentless electro beat is overlaid with Maya’s scattergun delivery, and it is all over far too quickly. ‘Meds And Feds’ swiftly follows with more of the same, and this Sleigh Bells collaboration is up there with ‘Born Free’ as my favourites from the album. ‘Tell Me Why’ is a gospelly ballad, combining a choir with military drumming for an unusual but effective backing, and ‘Space’ ends proceedings with a robotic dance groove, a laid-back vocal and a distinctly odd chorus. So, a bit of a departure for me, but one that was worth the risk. This album has its flaws, and I can’t say that I love every track, but it also contains some innovative and challenging music, and when she gets it right Maya can surprise you with just good she can be.
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