M.I.A said in a recent interview that her album was called ‘Matangi’ because it is the name of the hindu goddess of music. She was by no means wrong, but what’s more telling is the translation of Matangi as “the dark one”. She is often referred to as “the outcaste goddess” for bringing in unorthodox forms of art and creation and always veering away from the masses. It was almost a decade ago that ‘Arular’ came out and totally obliterated the status-quo with it’s blend of UK-urban rhythms and worldly production that was truly original. It was a dynamic clash of individuality, character and the remorseless, faceless sound of underground dance music. In recent years, the part M.I.A plays in pop culture has become a lot less tangible. Her anti-establishment activism has taken a forefront and her notoriety has rocketed but the reasons for that seem unclear.
These grey areas don’t get filled in on ‘Matangi’, it sounds more like our leading lady has had enough of trying to answer them. The nonchalance on opener ‘Karmageddon’ is thrilling in just how M.I.A it sounds but she’s not biting. She’s observing the chaos like a Greek chorus that the characters can’t see when she used to be the over-obnoxious riot starter. M.I.A fans will by no means be disappointed however; ‘Warriors’, ‘Bring The Noize’ and the ever-electrifying ‘Bad Girls’ are far more dancefloor-friendly than the cuts on ‘MAYA’, but the whole thing is missing the deliberateness and stop-at-nothing intent that makes her such an enthralling character. ‘Double Bubble Trouble’ is a joy sonically. A nursery rhyme/reggae melody that builds once to a trappish drop before building once more, to a furious double time breakdown. It screams MIA, far more than a gesture at a baseball game..
‘Matangi’ is not a collection of bad songs but it is without question a disappointing M.I.A album. It’s confusing because her personal life and non-music activity is so heavily charged by ambition and objective that is almost totally absent on this LP. When you compare the opening of ‘Matangi’ to ‘Pull Up The People’ which tore the doors of ‘Arular’ wide open you can’t help but feel a little disheartened. It’s okay to compare the two because sonically they aren’t far from each-other but what was a backstreet call to arms in 2005 is now paralleled by a spacious delivery of the lyric “Things do change and change can have a range/ system shouldn’t operate by sticking me in a cage.” The truth is, there isn’t much of need to even try and restrain M.I.A on ‘Matangi’. The goddess hasn’t lost her intrigue but she’s not the outcaste she was.
Words: Duncan Harrison