After ‘Arular’ (named after her father) and ‘Kala’ (her mother) ‘Maya’ completes the trinity of family-themed album titles with this time Miss Arulpragasam as the focal point. So can we expect lots of self-analysisand introspection? Well, no not really.
The place of power drills in music has always been a questionable one but of course M.I.A. shows no such fears and after a brief intro of keyboard tapping we are treated to ‘Steppin Up’, which also features a lot of booming drums. It’s not the first song which sounds like warfare on the eardrums but it also generates an excitement due to its compelling hooks. ‘XXX0’ is similarly edgy and thrilling; like unearthing a great, lost Sugababes track. This comparison is indicative because for all of M.I.A.’s personality the credits show she has co-writers on every track, not to mention a who’s who of name producers.
Revealingly, for the gentle, sunny ‘It Takes A Muscle’, – one of the less “busy” offerings here and therefore one of the most coherent – she has no writing credit at all. Yet I’m probably being harsh here, for to sound quite as contemporary as this anyone would need a bit of outside help. M.I.A.’s scattergun delivery is usually infectious and it’s sustained even for late album tracks like ‘Born Free’ and ‘Meds And Feds’, although for the latter the rhythms are downright hostile. For the last couple of songs here, she even shows a little bit of humanity; there’s yearning and “proper” singing for both ‘Tell Me Why’ and ‘Space’. For the bonus edition, there’s also a gem called ‘Caps Lock’, where her voice cracks with emotion and a welcome degree of vulnerability.
Packed to the gills with possible singles, ‘Maya’ sounds like a greatest hits album and therefore turns out to be possibly her best record yet. One might criticise the artist for her lack of soul but she clearly has a vision and the connections to make her the thinking man’s alternative to Lady Gaga’s assault on the pop charts.
Björk, These New Puritans