"Arular" was her father's album, "Kala" her mother's album, and "Maya" is Maya Arulpragasm--a.k.a. M.I.A.--'s "me" album. Understanding this makes its self-interest easier to forgive. There are individuals, verbal scythes in mind, ready to accept "Maya"'s unruliness and irregularity as a wide opening to chop down Maya the Artist, which they will do and which they've already begun doing, months early in the case of Lynn Hirschberg's trashy journalism. Those people are idiots. Even with its flaws, most forgivable, some imprudent, "Maya" stands above other pop music in terms of its rewards for listeners, if not always in terms of its songwriting. "Kala" is a panoramic world vision. "Maya" is looking through a periscope. Politics, the self-destructing a-bomb of the pop artist, abound. Only on "Meds and Feds" do Arulpragasm's politics drown the song. Otherwise her politics are the blood of the songs rather than their point, the opposite of clunky political records like Springsteen's "Magic." You can take her political messages to heart or you can let them pass out the other ear: the music remains.
What a trippy bunch of music it is, an almost nauseating sonic scrapheap of beats, synths, jangles, chipmunks, and bass lulls. The familiar chest-slapping power of "Steppin Up" is a sharp contrast to the flimsiness of "Lovalot," the pounding anger of the born-to-piss-you-off "Born Free" a far cry from the lackadaisical reggae swoon in "It Takes a Muscle," the second of the album's two love songs. The other is "XXXO," an adrenaline under-three-minute pop diatribe against some guy who is tweetin' her like Tweety-Bird on his iPhone and who wants her to be somebody who she's really not. "Teqkilla" is proof that the resolved grit of her daddy album and the maternal wonder of her mommy record are in the past. "I got sticky sticky icky icky weed/I got a shot of tequila in me," she sings. The kids from "Mango Pickle Down River" would faint. Those same kids could come up with a better couplet than "If life is such a game/How come people all act the same," from "Tell Me Why." Although Wayne Carter would have a hard time getting high-up enough to top "The stars are banging close to me," encountered on her neo-psychedelic trip-rap "Space," which closes the standard edition of the album.
Chalk it all up to Kanye West Syndrome: both West and Arulpragasm made a splash with their respective debuts, then followed them up with game-changing masterworks--in West's case, "Late Registration," in Arulpragasm's, "Kala." Then West's triumphant ego produced the self-happy "Graduation," just as Arulpragasm's newfound star-status is responsible for "Maya." M.I.A. has been poised to take over the world since "Kala," or at least since "Paper Planes." "Maya" will neither help her do so nor prevent her from doing so in the future. Its immediate rewards are clearer with each listen. Its lasting quality will be determined by time. Either way, I still believe M.I.A. can do no wrong: not because she's infallible, as disproved by "Maya," but because even at her lowest, she's just too darn smart.