M.I.A. is Back, But Only on the Internet

01/19/2011 4:02 AM |


Vicki LeekX Mixtape

M.I.A.’s third record, // /Y/, was so maligned that it’s probably destined to become a cult favorite. On paper, its stew of influences sounds vaguely intriguing, even now; harsh industrial clatter and bloody Suicide synths mashed against aggressively commercial, autotuned balladry could have been cool. (Some band will probably figure it out eventually, listing // /Y/,as a formative influence, prompting a hardy round of “Hmm, isn’t that interesting” from geeks of the not-too-distant future.) She just didn’t make it work. The record isn’t quite as abrasively noisy as its reputation states, its real sin being would-be pop moments that felt bafflingly stale. Without sufficient hooks as counterbalance, Maya Arulpregasm’s more annoying traits dominated the conversation. Honestly, nobody ever really liked M.I.A.’s records for her politics, because beyond a lyrical focus on Third World and insurgent cultures, her worldview’s been consistently muddled. It’s easier to whizz past P.L.O. shout outs in the midst of “Sunshowers” than it is to excuse facile Taliban empathy on a dud like “Lovalot.” Throw in that Times portrait of affluent hypocrisy and a snowballing rep as a slipshod live act and, really, things couldn’t have gone any worse.   

So, in that cruddy wake comes Vicki Leekx, M.I.A.’s first mixtape since the Piracy Funds Terrorism tape that fully launched her career in 2004. That title is another vapid eye-roller, about as deep as a Che tee on an undergrad but, thankfully, geopolitics is shelved here in favor of club-floor bravado and amusingly petty beefs. The set starts swiftly, using and discarding segments before they wear out. There aren’t really hit-grade hooks here (incorporated // /Y/,bits don’t improve much with changed context) but a welcome tendency to segue a frenetic beat into something that’s somehow even wilder. The meaty middle contains three longer, catchier song segments that hold the real interest. “Gen N-E-Y” is rumored to be a spiteful dressing down of long-time collaborator Diplo, while “Marsha/Britney” sneers at Facebook-addled “fame hoes.” Both sport slick beats and spry vocals. Their subject matter is such small stakes that it’s irrelevant if Maya is full of it. The mix falls off slightly from that midpoint, but bits of beat-driven nonsense connect here and there. One, a stuttering repetition of “fresh-ish, fresh-ish” is a pretty apt descriptor for the tape as a whole—far from her past glory but, after the year she’s had, not so bad either.