This could be the most interesting review that I’ve seen so far of my favorite album of the year – or decade: Got the Radio, Got the Power: M.I.A.’s Kala… Coming out of New York’s little events guide called The L Magazine, it’s a meaty exploration of contents and context: the contents of Kala and Kala in the context of the world – not pretentious like some rock criticism, yet far from some of the fluff articles on M.I.A. that I’ve glimpsed in slick fashion-focused magazines (some of which I would never have gone near if I hadn’t see M.I.A.’s name or picture on the cover). And though the writer, Mark Asch, tends a little toward run-on sentences (even worse than I do, I think), I’m impressed by his ability to hone in on particular songs in a way that brings out some of the big social themes running through all of M.I.A.’s music.
If it’s not too much of a “spoiler,” I’d like to post the final sentences – because I like the way he wraps it all up:
So songs like ‘Paper Planes’ — a Trojan horse of a track, it’s built on a sample from The Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” starts out in a triumphant mid-tempo mode that could almost pass for mainstream American hip-hop, and then drops a chorus that sees M.I.A.’s declaration that “All I wanna do is… take your money” punctuated by the sound of a gun shooting off a clip — play up the violent subtext of cultural appropriation. The unimpeded flow of information on which mash-up culture is founded is a one-way street, with all traditional forms of music moving toward those with access to them; a fearsome amalgamator herself, M.I.A. is trying to alter the current. She is, as she also says in ‘Bamboo Banga’, “knocking on the door of your Hummer Hummer.” And while the people in the Hummer probably aren’t listening to Jonathan Richman in there, the message is unmistakable: it’s me coming for your culture, and not the other way around.