SummaryIt took the full album leak to hear where M.I.A. went with her third album, /\/\/\Y/\, because the first tracks we heard were so different: the aggressive, Suicide-sampling "Born Free," the luxe Europop of "XXXO," the industrial grind of "Steppin' Up"," the playful club track, "Teqkilla." It was true of her second album, Kala, (listen to "Boyz," "Jimmy," and "Paper Planes," and decide what M.I.A. "sounds like"). This is what we love about M.I.A., seeing her make those leaps and landing, however unsteadily, right on the mark. So you expect a collage of styles and genres, political potshots and anti-corporate sloganeering. But what you don't expect from M.I.A. is an album as muddy as this. The pre-album buzz focused on her politics and authenticity. And on /\/\/\Y/\, the way she explores and addresses both are sharp as ever. Unfortunately, the songs don't match.
She's pooled some of the best producers here: Diplo, Blaqstarr, Rusko, Switch. The best M.I.A. songs, at their core, are a mix of strident and dull, a chaotic, worldsmart college backing her serious deadpan. It's hard to put a finger on just one thing, but there's something flat and undifferentiated about the record, though it teases and tests different genres across its dozen tracks. One of album's best tracks "It Takes A Muscle," (produced by Diplo, a partial cover of Spectral Display's single of the same name), has Arulpragasam singing "It takes a muscle to fall in love," over soft pop reggae. Any pop star of the last 30 years could have written and sung that line (and, you know, someone did). But when it comes out of M.I.A's mouth, suddenly it sounds surprising. We get only glimpses of M.I.A. the unapologetic pop star, and they're more convincing than anyone would have expected five years ago.