Turns out the childish video, weak leaked singles and truffle fries were the portents of doom after all.
It’s not that /\/\/\Y/\ is a terrible record, or that listeners should ever expect an M.I.A. offering to be an entirely coherent and quality piece of work, the fact is that as her personal ‘brand’ becomes evermore in-yer-face and bloated its flaws and frustrations become evermore visible and less forgivable.
The record is indicative of M.I.A.’s unique ‘see-what-sticks’ attitude and, for the most part, what ‘sticks’ does not amount to great LP. The album feels like M.I.A. rounded up the usual suspects for production duties and then invited them into the studio one-by-one to play whatever sound they were currently ‘digging’ and splice it together with whatever ill-conceived slogans she has just recorded and treated with GarageBand.
‘Meds and Feds’ is a case in point. Having coaxed them onto the N.E.E.T. label and in an attempt to harness the dizzy fury of Sleigh Bells’ sound Arulpragasam invites Derek E. Millar to deliver a crashing riff for her album. The problem is she brings nothing to the track herself and it ends up feeling hollow and out-of-place, like a B-side from the magnificent Treats and a mediocre one at that.
That’s not to say the production is not good; the album sounds as sharp as the buzz-saws that rip through the DIY-dubstep of ‘Steppin’ Up’ and there are a number of beautifully crafted tracks such as ‘Space’, ‘Tell Me Why’ and the absurdly fun bonus track ‘Internet Connection’. However on others (‘Lovalot’, ‘Tell Me Your Story’ in particular) M.I.A.’s contribution feels like an intrusion and there is no cohesion between songs. Arulpragasam’s vocals, such as those on ‘Teqkilla’, frequently feel as buried and insignificant as her image on the cover, hidden as it is by layers of YouTube bars. It is telling that on Kala, where her face appears front and centre, M.I.A. felt like a firm axis for the contributions made by Diplo, Switch et al. There was certainly chaotic posturing evident in that album also, but it was anchored in the kind of intelligent risk-taking that resulted in tracks like ‘Paper Planes’, ‘XR2’ and ‘Jimmy’.
The difficulty with employing a ‘trashy’ aesthetic is that you need to ensure it remains fun, innovative and suprising and the greatest disappointment with /\/\/\Y/\ is that, like the knowingly artless cover-art DiS rightly believe likely to ‘burn your eyes’ or the petty squabbles meted out through a website seemingly designed to crash your browser, the record fails in these areas much more often than it succeeds.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of M.I.A. but she is certainly a beguiling presence in music and, all other factors aside, Arular and Kala are great, flawed records. Inevitably, as the spotlight was turned on her following ‘Paper Planes’, an element of calculation has appeared at the expense of the sheer exuberance those first albums contained. As the media hype dissipates following this release she has the opportunity once again to produce something less deliberate and knowingly inane. Reference and idolize them all you like M.I.A., but The Sex Pistols made some great records as well.