by: Vivian Lee
Not going to lie: when “Bird Flu” first leaked onto the Internet about half a year ago, I wasn’t fond of it. M.I.A. bragged that she titled the song “Bird Flu” because the beat “gon kill everyone.” I agreed, but only because I thought she meant “kill” in the bad way, not the so-good-you-will-die way.
Now that I have her second record, Kala, in my hands (with “Bird Flu” as the second cut), I may not be killed, but I’m definitely infected — as the song works so cohesively well with the rest of the album.
By now we all know that the native Londoner Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam was mysteriously denied entrance into the U.S. when she wanted to record her follow-up to Arular in her adopted home of New York. Instead of stalling and waiting around for her visa, M.I.A. took flight around the world penning her album. The different locations she visited are evident on Kala. Globetrotting’s obvious influences are with guest Nigerian star Afrikan Boy in “Hussel” and Aussie band The Wilcannia Mob in “Mango Pickle Down River.” The album’s flow feels like its own world trip — beats pulsating in a fast-paced rhythm that reflects her international inspirations.
“Paper Planes” is a stand out, not just because of a sample from “Straight to Hell” by The Clash and the all-around bad ass lyrics that we’ve come to love from M.I.A., but because it harks back to her first album Arular in which she tells the audience just how much of a musical misfit she is. Bad assy-ness aside, “Paper Planes” is pretty damn catchy, and I sometimes (er, accidentally) shout the lyrics out loud just because it makes me feel like I’m a rebel too.
Another song that borrows from the great rock riff stockpile is “20 Dollar,” where the backdrop of the song is ripped from the bass line of New Order’s "Blue Monday," and a lyrical line is appropriated from The Pixies “Where Is My Mind?” Not only are the samples creatively done (no rip-offs ala Vanilla Ice here), the politics are still good on the ground: "Do you know the cost of A.K.'s up in Africa? / 20 dollars ain't shit to you, but that's how much they are." I may not know what’s up in everyday war-trade, but it sure riles me up just the same.
The greatness that is the aforementioned “Paper Planes” and Bollywood-tinged “Jimmy,” is neutralized with the dud that is “Come Around.” It features Timbaland, who is famous (rightly so) for producing massively catchy summer hits with the likes of Justin Timberlake (“My Love,” anyone?), but when it comes to rapping…well that’s another story. With asinine lyrics such as “Baby girl / You and me, need to go to your teepee,” I end up either fast forwarding his soft-core “Indian” racist randomness or just stopping the album right before I get to the wimpy wigwam. This is seriously a shame because without Timbaland’s rap, the song is great.
The bottom line: M.I.A.’s Arular was totally my summer album in 2005. In spite of Timbaland’s thud, Kala is definitely shaping up to be this year’s summer album.