“Matangi”

M.I.A.

3.5 out of 4 stars

 

Do you remember the episode of the Flash cartoon “Homestar Runner” when the Cheat holds a lightswitch rave and Strong Bad yells at him? (If not, watch it immediately.) That’s how I felt listening to M.I.A.’s “Matangi” in my cube at work. This is not a record for sitting still and being productive; this is a record for dancing.

If you loved “Kala,” “Arular” and “Maya,” you’ll be happy to know that M.I.A. is up to the same tricks—fantastically layered sounds, more than a tinge of her Sri Lankan heritage and a big fat middle finger to authority. The one issue that I’ve always had with M.I.A. is that her beats are so captivating her political message gets a little lost in the shuffle. I’m probably not the only one—do you honestly think the overwhelmingly crushing crowd that assembled for her Pitchfork set in July was there to hear about the oppression of the Tamils?

No, they came for smash hits like “Bad Girls,” the album’s first single, which has been around so long that it’s almost jarring to hear it on this record. Regardless, it’s still a damn great pop song. “Come Walk With Me” is the closest she can come to a “traditional” love song, and that part of the track lasts a mere 90 seconds before hopping off the deep end into funky drum machine and techno beats. She oozes talent, slinking smoothly and confidently through tracks that tiptoe around the edges of sounding too similar but refrain from jumping into that safety net.

Aside from her political targets, an unlikely foe is in M.I.A.’s crosshairs: Drake. Yes, the super-smooth Canadian, whom M.I.A. appears to think is pretty damn overhyped. “We started at the bottom, but Drake gets all the credit,” she sings on the album’s title track. “If you only live once, why we keep doing the same [bleep]? Back home where I come from we keep being born again and again and again,” she spits on “Y.A.L.A.,” a direct response to “The Motto.”

I can’t say I agree that Drake is a faker, but M.I.A. has definitely made her case as the real thing.

damoran@tribune.com  |  @redeyedana