1. The Message – Nothing much doing here. The intro. Something about the iPhone connected to the head bone, connected to the Google, connected to the Government. Intros are by and large a moronic phenomenon, and this is neither offensively bad nor particularly interesting.
2. Steppin’ Up – As one of the many singles released before the record, we’ve heard Steppin’ Up before. It starts with a chainsaw, and continues in the Public Enemy noise collage genre for four minutes while Maya chants and synths blip and squelch. The track manages to whip up quite a grove in its hypnotic tizzy. A good opener and a track that gets better on repeated listens.
3. Xxxo – Another of Maya’s many singles, and a track we love. Xxxo is a hybrid of disco, pop, and tribal rhythms, and is completely infectious. Despite the fact that this song has been called the album’s great sellout time and again, and derided as a crass attempt to move to the mainstream, it feels like the most honest track on the record.
4. Teqkilla – What to say about Teqkilla. It’s almost six and a half minutes long, and is both one of the most obnoxious and catchy songs in M.I.A.’s catalogue. The MC chants “Sticky sticky icky icky weed” and it’s the most annoying damn thing you’ve ever heard until you find yourself muttering it incessantly once you’ve turned the record off.
5. Lovalot – Lovalot is a great track. It sounds a little like the dub step of Burial interrupted by choruses written by UK underground dancehall madman The Bug. If that means nothing to you, the song is a mellow electro groove with an ambient bent and a skittery chorus beat.
6. Story Be Told – Story Be Told sounds a little like old school Dizzy Rascal, with its grimy bass and claustrophobic tension. Yet it also provides some of the record’s most honest lyrical proclamations. When M.I.A. chants “All I ever wanted was my story to be told,” it’s easy to forget a lot of the pomposity and pretense of her persona and believe her.
7. It Takes a Muscle – This is a bit of an odd duck. It’s a cover of 80’s pop duo Spectral Display, and has a very sunny reggae vibe. M.I.A.’s plaintive delivery of the song’s romantic lyrics and lilting melody are affecting and fun. It takes a Muscle is another of Maya’s great surprises.
8. It Iz What it Iz – It Iz What it Iz revels in a lazy and lovely melody that sounds like the work of someone who is lost in the beat. The hypnotic synth loop is matched by M.I.A.’s multi-tracked vocals that weave around and within one another to build a beautiful left-field pop song that sounds a little like Radiohead meets Beach House.
9. Born Free – The Suicide-sampling digital punk track we’ve all come to love. Or hate. Personally, we like it. If nothing else, it’s the best example of digital hardcore since the dissolution of Atari Teenage Riot, and was totally bizarre to watch M.I.A. and her minions perform on Letterman the other day.
10. Meds and Feds – This track is a hella catchy headlong charge even further into ATR territory. The relentlessly thumping beat and thrashy guitars build the perfect sonic assault for M.I.A. to pepper with lines like “I just give a damn” and “The modern coppers beatin’ on us”. Meds and Feds is produced by Sleigh Bells guitarist Derek Miller, formerly of the metal group Poison the Well. The album’s most brutal and abrasive song, and also one of its best.
11. Tell Me Why – Tell Me Why is a sky-scrapping pop track driven by a stomp-clap marching drum beat and a sampled choir of vocals churned into a colossal, melodic backbone. As with Xxxo, M.I.A. decides to sing this one, rather than rap, and she sounds like she’s having a lot more fun that she does on downers like Teqkilla.
12. Space – Formerly There’s a Space for Ol Dat I See. This is a personal favorite of ours. Imagine M.I.A. were sent into space. She’s in a little craft with just enough room for a synthesizer, adrum machine, a microphone, and a digital four track. She’s sitting there looking at the Earth and she decides to lay something down, recording her ruminations through an ethereal melody. You have the basic idea of this track.
And as always, please give us your two cents on the record. We encourage debate and insults.