There are many things you can do only once: strike a match, be spun hopelessly out of control by mad love, and – rather more relevant here – smack the world’s gob with the bracing freshness of your vision and the strange singularity of your sound. Maya Arulpragasam effortlessly managed the latter with both her fine debut, Arular, from 2005, and 2007’s brilliant follow-up, Kala.
The trouble with the latest from this globe-trotting visionary is twofold: we now understand just what MIA does, so the element of shock is lost; and in the interim a bunch of other artists have begun to plough a similar, stylistically promiscuous field. In her case, it’s Spank Rock, Major Lazer, Herve, Crookers, Toddla T and the rest of the fidget-house freak scene.
Put simply, MIA’s weird really ain’t weird no more. It is, however, still smart, sharp and highly entertaining, and the subtle but marked commercial intent (notably on buzzy, Britney-styled single, ‘Xxxo’) of her new album hasn’t dented her cred one bit. Dubstep don Rusko has joined her favoured production team of Diplo, Switch and Blaqstarr, so monstrous, echo-chamber dub anchors the familiar shrieking sirens, jet-plane whooshes and juddering synths.
It’s all engagingly raw, from urgent opener ‘The Message’ to the Suicide-turn-Japanese mania that fuels ‘Born Free’. Still, it’s hard not to hanker after virgin ears, to hear such thoroughly ‘moderne’ music for the first time. But perhaps that’s not MIA’s responsibility alone.