Hyped-to-the-moon-and-back album makes case for musical electro-globalization
Records as breathlessly buzzi?ed as Arular should generally be approached with trepidation, since hype hath a way of expectations. skewing. Moreover, so much has been made of M.I.A.’s (nee Maya Arulpragasm) revolutionary (terrorist?) sensibilities—as if the insurgent fantasies of groups like The Clash or Rage Against the Machine never waved this banner from their imaginary AK-47s as most yawned in disinterest. While Maya’s experience as a refugee of Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war adds a touch of experiential realism to the perspective, in the end what’s more interesting than the politics is the album’s musical syncretism. As American audiences gradually venture into world-urban music like grime, reggaeton and favela, M.I.A. has become a de facto ambassador for electro-globalization, effortlessly mixing flavors of Kingston, London, New York, Delhi, Ibiza, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro and San Juan.
While almost no album can bear the over-analysis to which Arular has been subjected, the album is a natural launching pad for critical spewage because it’s so fresh and distinctive, particularly on more unassuming numbers like “Amazon.” Whereas so many collagist exercises in this genre become overly arch and unlistenable as their sights cleverly bend toward their own techno-navel, this is an album you can actually dance to, which, at the end of the day, is a huge plus. If you can stomach the haphazard allusion to the PLO and the overuse of the word “revolution,” the genuine pan-tropical funkiness (sampled steel drums!) of the music is the thing that makes Arular more than just grist for lefty, hipster-chic circles. It’s not the mind-blowing masterpiece the critics are so dizzily carping about, but as a milepost of the current state of world electronica it remains strong throughout.