“Bad Girls” was released over a year ago and it still sounds fresh enough to be the best song on Matangi. That’s not saying the album is a disappointment; it’s actually far from it. It’s not because “Bad Girls” is the most accessible song on the delayed album either as its success lies further than pop ambitions. It’s not just catchy, but feels all-encompassing. It for the most part disregards cultural notions of feminine power for a concept that not just thrilling, but secular. “Live fast, die young/Bad girls do it well” isn’t just the song’s mantra. It lives it. The eastern-flavored synths bubble with life, the drums rumble with personality, and the stringwork envisions adventure. Bodies shake.
The ability to host and compose this cross-continental party has long been M.I.A.’s main strength. Kala’s confetti-colored shrapnel saw her using this strength to perfection, while the follow-up MAYA proved to be a decent, but overall exhausting listen. Matangi is built with the more abrasive tools of MAYA with the mindset of Kala. There’s a collage of sounds here, and Matangi falters in how M.I.A. curates them. She was skillfully able to inject artistry into accessible jams on Kala and to some extent Arular, but too often it feels like normalcy disguised as eccentricity here.
Take the unapologetically jarring “Bring The Noize”, which moves so quick and loudly that it doesn’t feel like it’s concerned with the listener catching up. The tools that build the song are bold, but their usage isn’t. Dancehall-inspired sounds collide with a drum-heavy breakdown of a hook with forgettable results. The same problem happens on schmaltzy album lowlight “Know It Ain’t Right”, which uses psychedelia to disguise an uninspired take on a tired lustful concept. The Weeknd-sampling “Exodus” and “Sexodus” doesn’t offer much either, and it doesn’t help that they average about five minute each.
The misused elements doesn’t completely hold back this album, however. The constantly shifting arrangement again adds an element of unpredictability, like in “Y.A.L.A.”. The synthy hook feels for too similar to soulless, club-dominating EDM, but the song eventually focuses on that heavy percussion. This leads to a coda that feels too addicting to be relegated to just being the coda. The title track is pretty blunt with its Indian influence as M.I.A. name-drops various locales. It sounds average, but that replay button is going to come in handy when the raw, bass-heavy second part stampedes through.
But it’s not only the more progressive songs that take the spotlight though. Although M.I.A. isn’t able to curate Matangi’s worldly elements to its fullest potential, there are moments where she does so in bombastic fashion. When the burps and thumps set off the hook on “Only 1 U”, I see M.I.A. and friends dancing in neon lit lowriders— complete with hydraulics—riding across the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway toward the JFK Airport to catch a plane en route to a Cabana in India. It’s that serious.
There’s a blasé tone M.I.A. takes on throughout the album, but it only feigns indifference as it more often than not works as a nice juxtaposition to the heavy instrumentals. The singer still finds time to string together a Lady Croft and a Lady of Rage reference (as in the angry, Death Row affiliated one). She also shines on the lullaby melody of “Lights,” where she switches from coy to braggadocious, Benihana-feasting nonchalance.
As nonchalant as M.I.A. is during some of the albums biggest moments, there’s a sense of control and focus. Matangi is a loud album, which is characteristic M.I.A. But here, that loudness makes its flaws more apparent. There’s plenty of aural tools used, but there isn’t much of a focus on how to use them, causing too many tracks to fall into forgettable conventions. When there is a sense of focus, we get bangers. There’s no screams when this happens, so M.I.A. didn’t necessarily have to warn us not to do so on “Bad Girls”. We just need those shots to at least have a target.
3.5 out of 5
You can purchase Matangi on Amazon.