CD Review of Kala by M.I.A.
Recommended if you like
Lady Sovereign, The Sea Navy, Slowlands
Label
Interscope
M.I.A.: Kala

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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Y
ou ever been hyped? Hyped, as in so excited about something because you read all the hype surrounding that something, and that hype amped your hype and thus you became really hyped? Yeah, well, there’s been puh-lenty of buzz about M.I.A. and her sound, and how her previous album Arular was this sort of wacked-out little gem that got those in the know to talking. And where there’s talk, there’s fire, baby. You know that. Critics all gathering around to lay down with the fans to have one big love fest so that that word on the street heightens the hype and makes the money and the lights that shine. It’s a beautiful world, as Devo once so quaintly put it. M.I.A. has officially been on the hype train bound for greatness.

So now here is Kala. I’d seen it in the store being offered up at a slashed price, presumably because this was indeed one of those discs that everyone had to have and thus was a big mover and shaker. But purchase resistance was met. I had been burned too many times in the past. So wouldn’t you know it, the album showed up on the discs available for review radar and thus it was time to experience this Miss M.I.A. and see what all the buzz was about. What’s it really like? Is it the next great thing?

Hell to the no.

The album opens up with “Bamboo Banga” and its rattletrap percussion. Zooming car effects blast by and M.I.A. begins to quote the Modern Lovers’ classic “Roadrunner.” The verses soon break down into twaddle like “Yeah I’m knockin’ on your doors of your Hummer, Hummer” repeated more times than necessary, followed up with “We’re hungry like the wolf and we need our dinner.” You’re serious? This is what the New Greatness is all about? I mean, there are even lyrical allusions to the Macarena. Hmm. Well, the sticker on the front of the disc declares that the New York Times hailed this stuff as “Electrifying.”

“Bird Flu” doesn’t make much of a case for that statement, though. Laden with all sorts of sampled percussion and M.I.A. making Yoko Ono-like noises in the background as she chants on top, giving it a bit of a wonky tribal feel, it’s enough to make most anyone not on the staff of the Times a bit nutty. But then comes the big single, “Boyz,” and you can understand how it could be a hit. It’s got enough mindless repetition to keep a two-year-old sated and seems like it would sound good being blasted from some sports arena during a game. Again, it seems to all be about the percussion and not much else, save for a couple loops here and there that merely add to the annoyance factor.

“Jimmy” at least breaks that mold by sounding like a semi-average dance track, though it’s nothing that a thousand other artists haven’t done better. But then “Hussel” just completely throws the album back into high annoying gear with its buzzing synth blast and more tribal percussion sounds. There’s some rapping and chanting and it’s all very nowhere, man. Yet that doesn’t fully prepare anyone for the weird “Mango Pickle Down River” that sounds like a cross between Ween and some long lost “Sesame Street” tune. It at least provides a welcome break from the monotony of the rest of the album.

“20 Dollar” returns things to mediocre, with the buzz synth going backwards this time for a change of pace. And “Word Town” sounds like something Fergie would lay down as a demo but then flesh out a lot more for the finished product. The rest of the disc plays out the familiar territory with the oddball “Paper Planes” featuring a chorus dancing around samples of gunfire and ringing cash registers. At times, M.I.A. sounds like she may start bending towards a more Lily Allen type groove, but something always comes along to ruin it at just the right moment. Besides, Allen is far more entertaining than this.

And what “this” boils down to is an album filled with skeletal ideas with minor exception that cannot sustain an entire album, let alone a short EP. If M.I.A. had coupled “Mango Pickle Down River” and “Paper Planes” as a single and left it at that, then there may have been something to buzz about. But taken as a whole, Kala reveals its repetitive recipe all too quickly and leaves the listener wondering where it’s all going. Unfortunately, this album rarely gets out of first gear and when it does, the change isn’t enough. “Electrifying?” Hardly. “Annoying?” You betcha.

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