Maya Arulpragasam, also known as the global-genre pop star M.I.A., once pinky-wrestled the Dos Equis commercial's World's Most Interesting Man - and won. Yeah, the British-Sri Lankan is an intriguing gal, with legs and a life story that just won't quit. She has a provocateur's instinct, and her mystique has grown in advance of her third album, the bold disc she describes as "schizophrenic," simply titled Maya.
(Actually, it's not simply titled; /\/\/\Y/\ is the typographically stylized version found on the album cover.)
"I'll throw this shit in your face when I see ya," she sing-shouts on Born Free, "coz I got something to say." Sometimes too much to say: The video for Born Free was quickly banned from YouTube play for its intense depiction of mistreated red-haired boys. The song, a hellish thrill ride based on an intimidating sample from Suicide's 1977 synth-punk composition Ghost Rider, rants against religion, oppression and possibly Lady Gaga ("and imitators, yeah stick it").
Over all, the album is a mix of her hectic, eventful collages (alarm noises, jet swooshes, drill sounds, and drum beats hammered home like Lebron James-dribbled basketballs), but with new adventures in melody. One of the album's producers, former boyfriend Diplo, convinced M.I.A. to sing, which she does adequately (if a little flatly) on Tell Me Why, a colourful, swaying number that would have played well at the World Cup in South Africa.
Tell Me Why notwithstanding, there's less of a Third World vibe here. On XXXO, though she spits a beauty ("Cuz you tweetin' me like Tweety Bird"), M.I.A. seems bored with the Euro-flavoured dance-pop.
In a controversial recent interview with Lynn Hirschberg of The New York Times Magazine, M.I.A. had a quote - "give war a chance" - taken out of context. In the deadpan electro-rap of Lovalot, inspired by a well-publicized incident involving a slain Islamic terrorist and his vengeful suicide-bombing Russian wife, M.I.A. commiserates. Through the mischievous dropping of a "t," the line "I really love a lot" sounds an awful lot like "I really love Allah." Also, the alleged Tamil Tiger sympathizer justifies eye-for-an-eye violence: "I fight the ones that fight me."
Communication technology - "a digital ruckus" - concerns M.I.A., who theorizes on The Message that Google is a search engine controlled by the government. On the trance-drone of Space, even the phones lines are down, disconnecting a pair of lovers.
What's M.I.A.'s own message? On an adventurous, bombs-away album of eclectic club music, perhaps she means to say stay thirsty, my friends, stay thirsty.