Album: M.I.A. //\ /\ Y /\ (Neet / XL)

The return of M.I.A.: pop's rebel without a clue

Sunday 11 July 2010 00:00 BST

Viewers who saw M.I.A. perform at last year's Grammys with a prominent belly bulge were surprised to learn that she was actually nine months pregnant: most assumed the 34-year-old was merely carrying the weight of her own self-importance.

Since the release of 2005 debut Arular, she has become the poster girl for a certain political world-view: loosely speaking, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-globalisation. She has immaculate rebel heritage: her father was, or so she claims, a Tamil revolutionary fighter. She should be right up my street. So why does she unfailingly rub me up the wrong way?

Firstly because, while all manner of personality defects are tolerable in a rock star, smugness is unforgivable. Secondly because her lyrics and public statements favour the suspicion that we're dealing with an artist who isn't as intelligent as she thinks she is.

///\Y/\ was created with the help of London DJ-producer Switch, Baltimore's Blaqstarr, Yorkshire-based dubstep man Rusko and ex-boyfriend and long-time collaborator Diplo. Like her two previous efforts, it employs a multi-ethnic, pick-and-mix aesthetic, although there's a harsher, industrial edge this time, the sub-Peaches electro-punk of "Meds and Feds" being a case in point. However, as with sugary sing-song "Tell Me Why", it has its airier interludes. The slightly Prince-ish "XXXO" is political only with a lower-case 'P', dealing with relationship role play via lines like "I can be the actress, you can be Tarantino". Lyrically, that's as good as it gets: this is an album where the title "Teqkilla" is considered a brilliant pun.

Often, the most interesting moments arise when M.I.A. herself is absent. See the backwards beats of "Lovalot" – when she comes in with banal boast "I fight the ones that fight me"; it's an irritant. But the ///\Y/\ era's most potent moment isn't even present here. I refer to the video for "Born Free" which depicts ginger people being rounded up by the military and used for target practice. It's far superior to the track itself, which samples Suicide's "Ghost Rider" to unspectacular effect. Some might argue that a lefty, radically minded pop star is something for which we should just shut up and be grateful. But is M.I.A. really the best we can do?

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