M.I.A. – Arular (LP of the Week)

This is the release that started it all out. It has already been five years since its release. I remember watching the Sunshowers video on the XL Recordings’ website (YouTube was just starting out, and was quite a distance away from having all music videos one can imagine). It really was, and remains unlike anything out there. Eventually also watching the “Galang” video. So really long before the release of Arular, even before Piracy Funds Terrorism, M.I.A. was huge in the underground. As was anticipation for her debut. Nowadays, reactions are probably quite mixed.

I still very much enjoy her work, even if after just seeing her for the first time she seemed to lack a little energy. Arular is the most laidback of her three releases. Kala, and /\/\/\Y/\ (MAYA), have since had more edge to them, especially the case for the latter. Essentially every track has the playful feel to it. Kala still had fun tracks, while /\/\/\Y/\ felt like it got quite serious. Maya has always been political, however with her latest it is the most noticeable.

I mentioned the mixed reaction as some reviewers have not cared for the new album (of note, for the most part professional reviews seemed favourable!). I can understand that, however I believe artists should evolve. Had the Beatles stayed with the sound of their first two albums throughout their career, who knows where they would have ended up, and how they would be thought of in the present.

As a Sri Lankan refugee (she was born in London but spent most of her youth in Sri Lanka), there is no doubt she would incorporate Sri Lankan themes and lyrics. Add western beats and influence, with her unique lyrics and wordplay, and it results in a one of a kind mash of musical styles. Add her visuals, and its the entire package.

The albums starts with “Banana Skit”, with the message of getting an education (“Education number 1 here we go” and “Get your self an educationnnnnnn”). That makes for a perfect segue into the “Pull up the People”, with the first of numerous name droppings of herself, including “Slang tang, that’s the M.I.A. thang”! She also has “I got the beats to make you bang”. No doubt. Also in the same song first hints of political lyricism, “I’m a fighter I’ll take ’em on/You treat me like a killer/I ain’t never hate ya/I’m a soldier on that road”. A little reminiscent of some lyrics from her new track “Lovalot”, “But, I fight the ones that fight me.”

“Sunshowers” is the most feel good track on the album, and yet still has lyrics bound to confuse some, “I salt and pepper my mango”. One media outlet, perhaps MTV refused to play it until they knew what that meant. I assumed literally, and that is what M.I.A. said. And still brings the political lyrics, “Like PLO, I don’t surrendo!”. Also the very true: “Put away your stupid gun yo”.

The hidden track “M.I.A.” also has some relevant western political lyrics, “you can watch TV and watch the media/ President Bush doing takeover”. And the motivational (if you will), “You can be a follower, but who’s your leader? Break that cycle or it will kill ya”.

I feel that her harder edge is due to being in the limelight more, and being criticised. I did not follow it too much, but surely the New York Times debacle did not help. Although I do like /\/\/\Y/\, so I cannot complain, however I would like to see her more down to earth, and crafting great songs like the ones from “Arular”, while still evolving as an artist and as a person. While not forgetting her political background.

After listening to the album yesterday for the first time in a little while, to prepare for this blog entry, I had “Amazon” stuck in my head today. “Amazon” being another fine example of the catchiness of the beats, and lyrics, and unique elements found within (as is the case on all her albums!).

I was missin’ in action on the side of a carton
I was taken in a Datsun from a street in Acton
I was sippin’ on a Rubicon, thinkin’ ’bout where I come

Without a doubt, a must listen. Or a must listen to again (and again, etc.!).

Music videos from Arular:

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