At a New York release party for her new album "Matangi," M.I.A. brought a special guest onstage — WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. He Skyped an introduction to the show from his longtime temporary home inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The gesture was meant to shore up her radical bona-fides and continue her work at the edges of politics, technology, performance art and music.
The move might have made a little more sense for her last album, the frantic and Internet-paranoia-laced "Maya." "Matangi" by contrast is downright peaceful and reflective. Named for the Hindu goddess of speech and of outcasts, it's shot through with earnest spirituality. Falling halfway between the successful pop aspirations of "Kala" and the punky noise blasts of her last LP, "Matangi" keeps her idiosyncrasies, but it isn't quite a policy overhaul.
The still-snarling "Bad Girls" single has been out for so long that it seems unlikely to drive the album into American pop consciousness (which really does need a rap-adjacent artist talking about the security state).
Most of the other material here is either serrated demon-dancehall like "Bring the Noize" (which sounds amazing but never quite lifts off to banger territory) or loopy tantric pickup lines like "Sexodus," whose hook is as tossed-off as the pun implies. There's some excellent production work from old M.I.A. hands like Switch and young rap titans like Hit-Boy, and the hazy, hopeful theology of "Y.A.L.A." ("YOLO" for reincarnationists) is a cool premise for an album of post-colonial uplift in the Internet era. It's just a shame that so much of the record feels more like an Assange-style data drop than a pointed, insistent statement.
Two and a half stars (out of four)
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