Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Albums Of The Year: Number 11

In the parts of the music discussion Internet world seemingly designed to ward off the casual browser there's been something of a sustained backlash against M.I.A. "Class tourist political figurehead say-nothing art fraud!" they chorus. When Galang '05 was discussed on 6 Music's Roundtable review show, the concensus was that it was too wrapped up in its own political stance, whatever form that stance was taking in the song as at least one panellist admitted they couldn't make out its message. Yeah, cheers. Incidentally, that's her biggest single to date, which was also accompanied by a Mercury nomination, Radio 1 playlisting and a Jo Whiley session, acres of newsprint, daytime music TV exposure and style magazine wall to wall features. It peaked at number 77. It's not difficult music to get a handle on, certainly in a market that has embraced less voluble versions of its second cousin grime. Mind you, even ultrapop behemoths Girls Aloud stopped selling records the moment web reviews started reading "actually, this is great!"

So what is Arular? It's grooved out hip hop, reggaeton, glitchpop, favela funk, Neneh Cherry moves, and at the centre a dynamo running off the pure energy of what surrounds her. Bringing lyrical imagery of the land of Sri Lanka at a particularly volatile point of its recent history and melding it with cod-Jamaican slang and pure London girl sass, making for a genuinely thrilling ride, allied to which is the sort of production backup that emphasises its rollercoaster nature, whether the Fat Truckers' Ross Orton playing his usual electro games or Diplo turning the Rocky theme horns into pure baile funk. Fire Fire namedrops both Timbaland and the Pixies, and it's not hard to see Arular making its own connections between Missy Elliott broken beats and controlled ferocity as played on Roland 505s rather than Joey Santiago's Les Paul. And really, isn't the whole political angle overplayed by people willing to take the background laid out on her press releases and run towards the nearest point marked 'cheap controversy pointscoring'? But again, we're getting confused between the artist's supposed artifice and the songs, and you don't hear artist information sheets being read out at clubs.

LISTEN IN: Fire Fire
EXTRA FEATURE: Elastica's video for difficult second album single Mad Dog (dir: Arulpragasam, M)

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