It would be rare treat to discuss M.I.A.’s music without having to deal with the wave of controversy that constantly follows her, but with the universally banned video for single ‘Born Free’, and the media frenzy that followed that embarrassing interview with the New York Times it would be hard not to, which is a shame, because whether she likes it or not, M.I.A. is a great pop artist. The global success of ‘Paper Planes’, which reached #4 on the American Billboard Hot 100 no less, provided her with the perfect platform with which to create the all important cross-over album but instead we get her most inaccessible and discordant album. And although /\/\/\Y/\ has enough moments of brilliance to save it from being mediocre I cannot help but feel under-whelmed by her third offering, but maybe that’s simply because I had such high expectations from an artist that has so many times risen the bar for popular music.
On some of the tracks, the bombastic beats and infectious hooks of her previous efforts are replaced with relentless industrial clatter. While it’s great that she’s exploring new sonic landscapes, (after all it’s this sense of adventure that made M.I.A. a global pop icon in every sense of the word), this should not be at the expense of a tune. Tracks like ‘Teqkilla’ ‘Steppin Up’ and ‘Meds and Feds’ end up being more of an unwelcome assault on the ears. Previously I was able to get past her confused politics because the music she made was so exhilarating, but when that is stripped away, what we are left with is sometimes an ugly mess.
However there is still a good, and sometimes brilliant album to be found within /\/\/\Y/\, some of the most rewarding moments are those when she slows the pace. Of note are the beautifully dreamy album closer ‘Space’ which fittingly sounds like its been transported another world and the laid back reggae of ‘It Takes A Muscle’. And let’s not forget the glittering club banger and tour de force ‘XXXO’, which is the closest thing to pop excellence M.I.A. gets to on this album.