It was way back in January 2012 when ‘Bad Girls’, the first single from MIA’s fourth album ‘Matangi’ came out. The four minutes of pop perfection were a pleasant surprise given her 2010 record ‘Maya’ had lost its way a bit. 22 months since ‘Bad Girls’, ‘Matangi’ is almost here. Out on November 4, it’s a big moment for an artist who hasn’t released a brilliant album since 2007’s ‘Kala’. Here’s what it sounds like…
Twangs of a marimba, the chant of a prayer, an ominous bass riff. ‘Karmageddon’ is measured and well paced but, you suspect, the calm before the storm. MIA whispers about how “sex fucking sells”, before the track climaxes with the words “Ain’t Dalia Lama, ain’t Sathya Baba/My words are my armour and you’re about to meet your karma”. She’s about to wreak vicious vengeance on anyone who’s ever done her wrong.
This title track begins with giant, doomy thuds and MIA’s vocal emerging from the echo of an underwater bubble as jungle beats (from producer Switch) jump out. It’s a distant relation to her 2007 single ‘Boyz’, except MIA has turned her attention away from the opposite sex to focus on her geographical knowledge: “Somalia, Bosnia, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Morrocco, Botswana, Ghana, India Serbia…” It sounds like she’s recruiting for her own global army of futuristic warriors. Then she gets back to issuing a warning about what’s to come on ‘Matangi’ (“do you know what I’ve got in store?”), dish out some broad swipes (“you’re school of fakeness, I’m school of hard knocks”), give advice to any wannabees (“if you’re gonna be me, need a manifesto / if you ain’t got one, you need one presto”) and have a pop at Drake (“started at the bottom but Drake gets all the credit”). There’s a lot going on.
Only 1 U
One minute she’s being nice: There’s only one you and I’m gonna drink to that.”). The next she’s taking people on: “There’s trillions of cash, and millions of you.” Then she’s prophesising the end of the world: “Tonight’s the one because tomorrow may never come”. This mix of doom, hope, paranoia is one that MIA’s been working at for years, but rarely over such a heavy beat.
The moment when ‘Matangi’ stops dicking around in glitches and comes up with a solid, bold bit of songcraft. Produced by 'Niggas In Paris' writer Hit-boy, around the one minute mark 'Warriors' transforms itself into a huge clacking tribal beat that's part Sufi mysticism, part future R'n'B, based around MIA issuing a worryingly accurate incantation about how she's “putting you in a trance”.
Come Walk With Me
‘Come Walk With Me’ is romantic, and sees MIA seemingly addressing people being intimidated by her ("you ain't gotta shake it, just be with me") and suggesting she’d like a bit of companionship ("can I be your best friend?"). Of course this is undercut with her paranoid assessments of modern technology (“a thousand ways to meet you now, a thousand ways to track you down"). But moments like these remind that during this album’s gestation period MIA split from her billionaire fiancé and father of her child, Benjamin Bronfman. As if to tell us she’s okay now, the track ends with her revisiting a line from older track ‘Bamboo Banga’: “MIA coming back with power power.”
A strangely dated beat from Switch that falls somewhere in the middle of UK Garage, drum ‘n’ bass and Roni Size. Lyrically MIA concentrates on rhyming evocative words that end with the words ‘tant’ or ‘tent’ such as “militant”, “content”, “potent”, “blatant” and “potent”. It’s a weird tune, but it’s not hyperbole to say no one else on earth makes music that sounds like this.
Oh hello, she’s sampling The Weeknd’s ‘Lonely Star’, and sounds like she’s trying to recruit people to a druggy sex cult ("Do you wanna come on a sexodus? Do you wanna ride like a crusader?”) as dramatic strings ping underneath. All of these songs are pumped full of crazy levels of melodrama. It’s all quite unsettling.
You know this one. It remains excellent.
Over a 76-second Hit-Boy beat MIA references her recent legal issue: "Let you in to Superbowl you try to steal Madonna's crown / What the fuck you on about?". Not sure that’ll stand up in court.
Double Bubble Trouble
A slice of slightly throwaway (“uh oh you’re in trouble, I step up in the game and I burst their bubble”) reggae-tinted doom produced by Dutch production crew The Partysquad, who’ve worked with Armand Van Helden and Major Lazer. "Cos I got a reputation" MIA repeats before ‘Double Bubble Trouble’ breaks down into the sort of folk-techno banger Omar Souleyman might enjoy.
It stands for ‘you always live again’. It’s a send up of the acronym YOLO (which stands for ‘you only live once’). And is, therefore, another dig at Drake, who popularized the acronym when he used it as the title of a mixtape. The drama MIA’s been surrounding herself with so far on ‘Matangi’ continues: “Bombs go off when I enter the building”. More interesting are the lyrics that explain the song: “If you only live once why we keep doing the same shit? / Back home where I come from we keep being born / That’s why they invented karma.” But, ultimately, this is an absolutely gigantic party tune.
Bring the Noize
A terror-filled mix of tribal drums and gobbledygook. MIA has a way of making sort-of-smart sort-of-dumb statements ("it's not me and you, it's the fucking banks") right next to throwaway comments ("I'm a party fucking animal") that combine to convince that the way to bring down corrupt high society is to dance. And make no mistake: she really is convincing. This song also includes the lyric “click click click get off my dick” and a story about an uncle in Iran. It’s utterly ridiculous.
The intense humming of bass on a gentle end-of-the-night dancehall number that doesn’t seem to serve much purpose other than signal ‘Matangi’ is winding down. “I used to be a bad girl, now I’m even better,” she says towards the end, as the song introduces a noise like a tiny robot walking up and down and electric keyboard.
Know It Ain't Right
The album continues to wind down. “We know it ain’t right but we do it anyway” goes the chorus, but we never find out what this thing that “ain’t right” is. This and ‘Lights’ could be an indicator or where a more mellow and calm MIA could go with her music in a few years time, but they jar on an album that mostly evokes thoughts of a rave in an underground bunker beneath a desolate wasteland that’s been torched to the ground by MIA’s army.
A reprise of ‘Exodus’ with different lyrics and production duties handed over to Hit-boy (rather than Switch and MIA, who did the first version). This one begins with that classic fade-in/out trope: helicopter blades whirring. A stirring finale.