Although Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase is often described as an “explosion in a shingle factory,” I think we can all agree that it is still a wonderful work of art. /\/\ /\ Y /\, M.I.A.’s new album, can similarly be described as an explosion in a haunted Home Depot. However, it is not a wonderful work of art. Listening to this album was punishing and grueling. The album is so excruciatingly awful that I am inclined to believe that her music studio also serves as an S&M dungeon. In fact, I hope it does because then I could say that she created this awful music with the intention of being heavily criticized for it, which would partially excuse her.
The album begins with, “The Message,” a short track that serves as the harbinger of the audio massacre that you will soon experience. The instrumental is classic M.I.A. – obnoxious, tribal, boisterous, yet catchy – but the lyrics( Headbone connects to the headphones/Headphones connect to the iPhone/iPhone connected to the internet/Connected to the Google/Connected to the government) sound like a podcast from Conspiracy Brother.
The next track is “Steppin Up.” This song is one of the two songs on the album that I actually enjoy. The rambunctious instrumental features odd electronic percussion and sounds as if it was post-dubbed by a foley artist, but it works really well. Reminiscent of Missy Elliot, the lyrics display M.I.A’s confidence and ease. The fact that she is a British female rapper may put her on the fringes, but when it comes down to it, she can still rap. Ultimately, the track is good because it is devoid of the obscure and poorly executed [pseudo]-political references and irritating overproduction that characterize the rest of the album. It is pure entertainment.
The next song is “XXXO.” If you told me that the artist behind brilliant songs like, “Bamboo Bangaa,” “Paper Planes,” “Bird Flu,” and “Come Around,” wrote, “you tweeting me like tweety bird on your iPhone,” I would call bullshit. Alas, I heard it for myself (3 times to be exact) so I cannot deny it. Even if you ignore the crap lyrics, the overall song is also terrible. The vocals sound like a collaboration between the Kids Bop kids and Madonna with a throat infection and the instrumental sounds like the title track from my dad’s favorite porn VHS from the 90’s.
“Teqkilla” comes up next. It’s about tequila, believe it or not. It’ s actually not a bad song. Despite my lack of experience with Tequila or heavy drinking in general, I found myself really enjoying it. Nevertheless, it eventually bored me. Unless you are Massive Attack, you probably shouldn’t have a song that is 6 minutes long as your 4th track. After “Teqkilla” comes, “Fighting.” Ha, I’m just kidding. I wish I wasn’t though, because the next song, “Lovalot,” is quite a tragedy. Although it began with the corny lyrics, “They told me this is a free country,/But now it feels like a chicken factory,” I found myself genuinely enthralled by the synergy of the visceral instrumental and M.I.A.’s serious tone. However, upon hearing the chorus, I was wholly disappointed. “I really love a lot, I really love a lot./I really love a lot, I really love a lot./But, I fight the ones that fight me./But, I fight the ones that fight me.” Seriously, M.I.A? This sounds like the mantra for a group of kung-fu hippies (which would probably make a cool comic book ).
The next three songs, “Story To Be Told,” “It takes a Muscle,” and “It Iz What It Iz,” made me feel as if M.I.A. was truly missing in action. Luckily, however, she reappeared, for the song, “Born Free,” which is undeniably the best song on the album. The track begins with a dynamic drum roll that transforms into a synthesizer and percussion free-for-all. 40 seconds later, this segues into the surreal, echoing vocals of M.I.A. The echo effect amplifies her voice to a god-like frequency. The commanding tone works well with the simple, yet powerful statement, “I was born free,” which serves as the chorus. Although I will never see her perform this song live, I don’t mind because the song itself sounds like a live performance. Listening to it makes me feel as if I’m in a giant amphitheater. If you like One Day as a Lion you will definitely like this song.
Sadly, as Nelly Furtado (and others who aren’t as important) have said in the past, all good things come to an end. “Born Free” cannot redeem the tracks that succeed it. “Meds and Feds” is impossibly loud and overproduced. The difference in loudness between this song and the rest of the album is equal to the difference in loudness between a television show and its interstitial commercials (if you’ve ever watched Comedy Central late at night and seen those annoying Girls Gone Wild Commercials, you know what I’m talking about) . I genuinely have no idea why this song is so loud. Moreover, in addition to being egregiously loud, the track is just plain unintelligible, but not in that cool, creative, discordant-but-still-amazing kind of way. It just sucks. “Tell Me Why” and “Space” and follow suit, with the former featuring truly weak lyrics (Tell me why/Things change but it feels the same/If life is such a game/How come people all act the same?) and sounding like a song from Jay Sean’s digital discard pile and the latter being a lame response to M.I.A.’s NY Times and twitter fiasco (Whoa, she dedicated a song to dissing a journalist. She’s a “real” rapper now).
Interestingly, one of the few things from “Meds and Feds” that I actually understood and can remember was M.I.A.’s use of the phrase, “digital ruckus.” That is exactly what this album is. However, it is not a good digital ruckus. It not the cacophonous yet appealing, avant-garde masterpiece that M.I.A. wants it to be. It is just silly noise. Now, if she is aware of that, then goddamn, she is really pushing the frontiers of music (but she isn’t).