“Politics: what’s up with that?”
If you didn’t know this was from a new M.I.A. album, you might be forgiven for thinking that a stand-up comedian was about to die on stage. But then that’s always been the M.O. of M.I.A., forever a scatter-gun on world issues with the quotable hit-rate to match. While her AIM is more targeted, the result is no different and this line sort of sums up her pop-politics approach.
Isolated, her opening on Borders does seem like a laughable attempt at social commentary, especially in the hands of someone who can do it so much better. And yet she somehow gets under the skin, the drone-like repetition drilling into you to the point you almost miss the ‘wtf’ moment of her even attacking the “love wins” movement.
It’s that marriage of sound and words – usually the crowning glory of any Maya record – jars even despite her ever-controversial views, most recently the whole Afropunk controversy. Even when the fire is relatively tame it doesn’t quite click: Bird Song makes admirable use of Bollywood samples, but it almost feels like a demo as even M.I.A.’s own words dry up and she exclaims “I need more birds!” (also, side note: ‘stay rich like an ostrich’ isn’t remotely strong enough to build an entire track around).
For someone who feels like she has a lot to say, AIM seems like her least urgent record yet. It’s both surprising and disappointing, with lazy and outdated lines like “people’s republic of swagistan” more frustrating in front of pithier ones such as “history is just a competition” all in the same song (Freedun, totally wasting Zayn Malik).
If her words are less pointed, her beats seem even less so. Where once M.I.A. seemed at the forefront of cross-culture and genre intersection, here the music seems almost perfunctory to the personality – it’s all about the mic and the proposed cleverness of the words, which isn’t really saying much. As a result, songs like Finally and Visa seem painfully simple from a woman whose pedigree ought to belie such a thing.
Still, in her defence, M.I.A. has more personality and a spikier template than any of her contemporaries. When she does shine – such as A.M.P. (All My People) – she can run rings around any opposition, musical or political. It’s just a shame that this fervour can’t stretch across an ultimately low-key album and an AIM that really does miss its mark.