If, as intimated in interviews, AIM is M.I.A.’s final album release, then it appears that one of her parting gifts to the music world is an album devoid of the punchy originality that previously defined her work. Despite its clear thematic undertones the album lacks a certain cohesion and, on the whole, shies away from being particularly sonically adventurous. M.I.A.’s voice lies at the fore of the majority of tracks and admittedly her witty lyricism does occasionally shine through, but one can’t help hoping that this album will be followed up by something reminiscent of her earlier days.
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The stand-out track of the album is, undoubtedly, the opening song “Borders”. M.I.A. is at her finest as she fuses eastern and western styles in a hypnotic blend which draws attention to the continuing global migration crisis. M.I.A. demonstrates her ability to politicise pop, to bring issues such as these to the forefront in a compelling and engaging manner. Unlike her comments on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement (an incident which led to her being dropped as a headliner for Afropunk Festival) these lyrics are equipped with a great deal of nuance. The next couple of tracks on the album are similarly appealing; the second, notably less political, track “Go Off” features the quirky hook “Run pama pama pa-pama pama pama” and the high-energy track showcases M.I.A.’s ability to construct sonic earworms. The next track “Bird Song” is a clear shift in tone; its production and disorientating, distracting beat is somewhat grating despite M.I.A.’s defiant lyricism.
(Photo Credit: www.billboard.co.uk)
It is from this point onwards that the album appears to falter. Song such as “Freedun” (featuring a wailing Zayn Malik) and “Survivor” are distinctly unmemorable and feel like filler tracks used to pad out the album. M.I.A.’s fierceness dissipates amongst the assortment of sounds as her album begins to lack direction and becomes trapped in a repetitive cycle. It is as if the ideas for songs are never fully fleshed out; “Ali R U Ok?” the Michael Jackson-esque parody and exploration of an immigrant friend exploited by his boss is underscored by a South-Asian inspired musical loop, yet the lyrics fail to live up to the tune.
M.I.A. used to be a bastion of controversial pop and in this album, at times, she is. It seems that this could be an album which will grow on the listener with time, yet one hopes it isn’t her last. M.I.A. has much more to offer and, despite the title, this album should not be her final AIM.