It’s been a while since I indulged in my M.I.A. obsession… And when I stopped writing here about M.I.A. so much, my readership dwindled to almost nothing. So, keeping one eye on the readership, I’ll go back to Maya Fever. Actually, the stats have nothing to do with it. Now that I’ve been listening to it constantly for almost three weeks (most often while I’m sitting on trains), I figured it would be fun to type out my impressions of the songs on Kala, track by track…
Bamboo Banga – This is not my favorite on the ablum (although M.I.A. herself said in one interview that it was hers), but it’s pretty good. It serves as a good opener, especially with that proclamation that “M.I.A.’s coming back with power, power!” The Modern Lovers cover at the beginning does revive some of the excitement of the original song (even if it’s not my favorite cover of “Roadrunner” - which honor goes to the Sex Pistols’). And as the song progresses, it introduces us to some of the impressive eclecticism – defintely a departure from the original “Roadrunner” - that helps Kala to take off completely later on. (Notice the Indian film music that emerges in the background - very nice.)
Bird Flu – This is the song that I’ve been hearing for the longest… As I recall, it has been months and months since I asked a friend to download it. And I still like it a lot. The Indian drumming is remarkable, and I love the children’s voices and the general chaotic craziness of the whole thing. When it first it came out on the Internet, lots of M.I.A. fans were saying it sounded like nothing they’d ever heard before. But given my own acquaintance with some popular Indian music (though I don’t claim to be an expert, especially not on Bollywood), I recognized instantly that she was going somewhere into her Desi roots. This was before all the news came out that this actually was going to be a very Indian/Bollywood-influenced album. And I thought that was delightful – and still do. The one drawback in this song for me is the lyrics, which seem to contain a fairly standard and trite critique of the habits of the male gender – and which were evidently, given blog posts and interview material from M.I.A. herself, a dig at Diplo. I think she’s even referred to this as a “breakup song.” Oh, well, it’s still a pretty good song, and very unique in many ways. (P.S. By the way, it’s never clear to me whether the title should be one word or two. It seems to have been made one word in the listings on the CD. However, I’ll continue to refer to it as two, which is how it’s been listed almost everywhere else.)
Boyz – I think the digs at the male gender in this song are more original as well as more universally applicable. It’s great how easily she was able to segue from the subject of the boys’ hard partying to the subject of their making war. I think she has a very witty way of saying that the boys who’ve become some of our biggest “leaders” never really grew up. It’s also extremely catchy. And, I like the fact that while it’s overtly somewhat a tribute to Jamaica and Trinidad (made more explicit in the video), its influences must be at least 50 percent Indian. The drumming is particularly Indian, and the vocals have a lot of Indian influence too (which she makes clear in the “acapella” version on the single). So, there are quite a few layers to this song, a song that some people who aren’t listening well might mistake for a fluffy pop song (which is maybe what some people were hoping would happen when this became the first single - though it didn’t exactly catch on that way). It is a pop song, but a pretty daring and brilliant one.
Jimmy – This actually has become one of my least favorite songs on the album. I appreciated it at first because I respected it as a cover and I thought that the video had touches of brilliance (hence my earlier agreement with the glowing review on Obtusity). I also like the very un-pop-like references in the beginning to a “genocide tour”(a little bit of Arular sneaking in there?)… But in terms of personal listening, it just doesn’t grab me. Some people speculated that this was going to be the breakthrough pop song, the most commercially accessible song, etc. But I don’t see that happening. As pop goes, I prefer “Boyz.” As Bollywood influences go, I prefer the way they emerge on all three songs preceding this. But it is still a good song and a good cover, maybe more to other people’s tastes.
Hussel (featuring Afrikan Boy) – This one doesn’t really grab me, especially not in the beginning, but I do very much like Afrikan Boy’s part in it, which is quite amusing. (Not much else to say on this…)
Mango Pickle Down River (with Wilcannia mob) – I like this one, and I appreciate the way it happened, as a great kind of social work that she was doing with aboriginal kids. I’ve seen one critic complain about its “bad lyrics,” but I think they’re actually fine for a children’s song. And, this really is a children’s song – which is great as far as I’m concerned. Every M.I.A. album should have a children’s song!
20 Dollar – And this one is just a knockout. It’s emerging as one of the two most highly praised songs on the album, and rightfully so. She does a brilliant cover/remake of the Pixies’ song “Where Is My Mind,” and also does some great rapping later on. This song also has some of my favorite M.I.A. lines of all. “I put people on the map who’ve never seen a map…” Yeah! (And to the critics out there: Whether or not you think that’s a little self-important – and I think it’s actually pretty low-key compared to so many rap lyrics - it is still a great line!)
World Town – This is pretty good. It’s not one of the more exceptional songs on the album in my mind, but it’s a decent song.
The Turn – This is actually another one of my least favorite songs on the album. Someone in a discussion about the album (maybe on one of the two fan pages I’ve visited) complained that it sounded like a misplaced Bjork song. Yes, I would go along with that. And I’m really not a big fan of Bjork.
XR2 – Yeah, the music’s got the beat all right! This is also a song that I’ve been listening to for months and months; it was sent out over the Net around the same time as “Bird Flu.” Some people don’t like the version on Kala because there’s some tacky-sounding game-like electronics going on here. But I like them, I think they’re funny. And they don’t ruin the beat, which is magnificent. I hear this is very B’more influenced. Well, I’ve heard some of the B’more sound and I like what I’ve heard, so maybe that’s another reason that I love this one.
Paper Planes – What can I say that hasn’t been said already? This is the little masterpiece. I’ve listened to this a hundred times already, while sitting on trains. (In case anybody doesn’t know this, I’m referring to the catchy verse opener, “Sometimes I think, sitting on trains.”) This song brilliantly revives an old riff from The Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” and it makes great use of the sounds of gun and cash register. And the lyrics are a treat too – not always easy to pin down (in terms of meaning or intent), but there is a lot of satire in this, and a very nice use of irony. (Some of it, actually, is downright hilarious. I love the nice, relatively girly way she sings, “Some some some some I murder, some some I let go.” I’m trying to think of what that part calls to mind, I mean melodically – some old British punk-pop band - like maybe…Tallulah Gosh?…) Anyway, I could write enough about this song to put anybody to sleep. Better to listen to it, and I guarantee you won’t sleep through it.
Come Around (featuring Timbaland) – I agree with the assessment of most real M.I.A. fans – and general music critics, for that matter – that it was kind of a drag to include this on the end of the U.S. version as a bonus track, and that “Paper Planes” should definitely have been the song to close the CD. However, I don’t really dislike the song, especially the part that M.I.A. contributes. I think Timbaland’s part is a bit dreary and do wish he’d been left off the album. (Maybe it was kind of a stroke of luck that she couldn’t come back to work with him when she wanted to.) But the beat is decent, and I like some of the more playful lyrics in this – nice references to “Indian” in the other meaning of the word (as in Native American) and a cute pun, considering…
Now, listing how these songs register with me in order of preference, I think it goes something like this:
1. Paper Planes
2. 20 Dollar
5. Bird Flu
6. Bamboo Banga
7. Mango Pickle Down River
9. World Town
11. Come Around
12. The Turn
P.S. [at a later date] regarding the my use of the word “Bollywood”: When I used the word “Bollywood” in my comments above, I was thinking of all Indian film music in general – which is how most people use the term. However, to be precise, some of the best samples that I call “Bollywood” actually came from somewhere else. When I did a little searching on this topic, I discovered that the sample for “Bird Flu” was from an R.P. Patnaik soundtrack. I think the film sampled was the Tamil version, which means it’s from Kollywood, although this film was originally done a year earlier in a Telugu version, which would make it Tollywood. (And by the way, the spelling of the song as credited in Kala is very different from the one I’ve seen elsewhere. Not sure why that is…) But since most westerners and M.I.A. fans are going to recognize the word “Bollywood” as meaning Indian film music in general, especially for song-and-dance musicals, I guess that this usage of the word is OK.
P.P.S. [Three Months Later]: It’s already December now, and I’m seeing that a number of people are still finding this review. So, I thought I’d revise something somewhat (without making a whole new post out of it)… During this time, I think my order of preference list has changed a little. This is partly due to the fact that I’ve gone to the sources of those Indian film music samples and also learned a little about the history behind them, some of the references, etc. So, I’ve developed more of an appreciation of those songs. Meanwhile, some songs, like”Hussel,” just needed a little time to grow on me, while “20 Dollar, for some reason, didn’t stick with me as much – although I still think it has a few great lines.
Anyway, here is the revised order of preference list:
1. Paper Planes
2. Bird Flu
3. Bamboo Banga
8. 20 Dollar
9. Come Around
10. World Town
11. Mango Pickle Down River
12. The Turn