#10. M.I.A. – /\/\ /\ Y /\
Initially, I was confused by /\/\ /\ Y /\. My favorite aspects of M.I.A.’s earlier albums, Kala and Arular, seemed to have been stripped away: the international politics, the world music beats. Do I want to hear M.I.A. using Autotune? Singing about how much tequila she drinks? A song like “XXXO” sounded very much like pure pop music, and I could easily hear a Christina Aguilera or someone singing it. Is this what I really wanted from M.I.A.? But a funny thing happened, even with this initial hesitation. I couldn’t stop listening to it.
The hidden aspects of many of the songs began to reveal themselves. Take the aforementioned “XXXO” which is ostensibly about a hookup. The chorus begins with, “you want me / XXXO” but is followed with the real chorus, “you want me to be somebody who I’m really not.” It is not the mindless situation it may appear at first. Similarly, at first I found “Teqkilla” despicable. But once I got around the the pun-filled lyrics about alcohol, I found it blown to bits by an insanely wild electro-jam. The end of the song is totally drunk on sounds and beats, and is completely awesome. Once I started to get into this song, the whole album started to click. If you start looking into the hearts of the songs, M.I.A.’s intelligence, creativity and lo-fi experimentation are still at their prime. The utterly bizarre echo-y gospel beat of “Tell Me Why,” the rock guitar back-to-back of “Born Free” and “Meds And Feds,” the trippy groove on “Story To Be Told”–they all started to work as clever, catchy tracks. (I still don’t like the Autotune though.)
And while /\/\ /\ Y /\ isn’t as explicitly political as her other albums could be, it does reveal itself too with more familiarity. Many of the songs are about freedom, never being caught. Instead of world politics, M.I.A. is focused on the politics of being an artist. (But it works as an analogy to the world too.) On “Lovalot,” she starts, “I feel cooped up / I wanna bust free / Got nothin’ to lose if you get me.” Later on “Space,” she sings that “gravity is my enemy” as she’s flying around in space odyssey (“I’m ahead of time so you’ll never lose me”). Is she staying one step ahead of expectations? Of authority? She’s out “living on the edge,” which is where the fight is, where the freedom is. It’s a great place for an artist to be.
So in the end, I consider /\/\ /\ Y /\ a great album. It is not showing up on many end-of-the-year lists that I’ve seen, and I reckon in the future it will continue to be overlooked, forgotten. Heck, I’m probably underrating it myself, even at #10 on my list. It is something that I will keep listening to, more and more. It’s not Kala, but it’s not trying to be.
and for fun, here’s a great song M.I.A. threw on the web, after she got in a little pseudo-controversy with a journalist who wrote a less-than-flattering profile about her.