M.I.A., Backlashes, Frontlashes, and Sweet Zombie Jesus, I Fucking Hate Auto-Tune

Question: can you hate the new M.I.A. album for purely musical reasons and avoid being labeled as part of the so-called backlash that is undoubtedly brewing against her because of Maya (or /\/\ /\ \/ /\ or whatever the fuck she’s calling it)? Subquestion within a question: why do I wish to avoid jumping on the backlash bandwagon in the first place?

To answer the last question first, I don’t want to be seen as part of some larger repudiation of M.I.A. as a musician. Despite her undeniably wackaloon theories about the internet (that it’s a C.I.A. conspiracy, for instance. If the internet is a conspiracy at all, it’s probably the porn industry at the heart of it), her first two albums are highly enjoyable. So I want to be clear here: Maya sucks, but I’ll probably still listen to the next M.I.A. record. I want us all to take a deep breath and see Maya as a definitely terrible record, but not get all “Fuck M.I.A.” for it. Mostly because the cycles of frontlash and backlash (I stole the word “frontlash” from a Mike Doughty Twitter post. Credit where it’s due) created by the internet are, to my thirty-year-old eyes, tedious as fuck at this point. There are people who hated M.I.A. before they ever listened to her (perhaps they’ve never listened to her) and Maya might give those people plenty of fuel for typing “I told U so” all over various comment sections and forums. But fuck those people. While I’m all for liking what you like and disliking what you dislike, I become annoyed when I begin to suspect that it’s hip to hate someone. If/when it becomes cool to hate Green Day and My Chemical Romance, I will become very cranky indeed because I hated those bands way before it was cool to do so – and I hate them because their music is awful.

So let’s hate Maya, by all means, but let’s not make a trend out of it, okay? M.I.A. has made two good albums and one patently awful one. I happen to think she can make good albums in the future. So let’s leave it at that. On a long enough timeline, most of your favorite bands will disappoint you (still waiting for that dreaded other shoe to drop from my beloved Hold Steady, though. Keep up the good work, guys. And, if you must disappoint me at some time in the future, just don’t use Auto-Tune to do it. Okay?).

Now then. Why do I hate Maya? The easy answers are, in no particular order: Auto-tune, repeated repetition of her own name over and over in multiple songs (my fiancee on this topic: “We know who you are! Write some lyrics!” And I would like to note that my fiancee also enjoys previous M.I.A. output), lazy songwriting, and obnoxious instrumentation.

The harder answer is that it sounds like M.I.A. is trying to split the difference between the club success of “Paper Planes” (has the backlash against this song started yet? If it has, fuck it. “Paper Planes”  is an awesome track and it became a huge hit. You can either reconcile these two concepts or you can’t. I can, but I also still love “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley) and her desire to still be some kind of musical outsider/rebel. So she’s made an album that is half a club record and half unlistenable dreck. On Arular and Kala, M.I.A. was able to make catchy tunes out of a lot of nonsense and silly noise, but Maya is heavy on the nonsense and irritatingly light on the catchy tunes.

The clubbier tracks on Maya also prominently feature Auto-Tune. I cannot say this clearly enough: Auto-Tune is always wrong. Always. Especially for M.I.A. I have never listened to M.I.A. because of her lovely singing voice. She used to find creative ways to use her limited vocal range and I dug the hell out of it. The Auto-Tuning is lazy. And the first person who tries to tell me she’s using Auto-Tune to comment on the use of Auto-Tune will be paid a midnight visit by the Bollocks! Goon Squad and they will cock-punch you until your eyes change color. If you do not have a cock, they will perform hasty gender reassignment surgery on you with plastic picnic utensils and then punch your newly sculpted cock until your eyes change color. Using Auto-Tune to comment on Auto-Tune is like installing a fascist government to comment on tyranny. The only comment that needs to be made on Auto-Tune is that it is the fucking devil.

Pretty much “Space” is the only really listenable track on Maya. I’m mentioning it now so that there’s a note of positivity in this review. Don’t say I’m never nice.

But here’s the thing: if M.I.A. wanted to throw a real curve ball to the listening public, she’d ditch the electronic shit altogether and make a punk album with real instruments. I’m talking really rudimentary – nay, barbaric – guitars, cranked to eleven, bass, and drums. And then just yell like a motherfucker. Make that record, M.I.A., and my money is already spent on it. As long as you remember to write songs. You can still be plenty weird and write real songs. See Tom Waits, the Flaming Lips, and Modest Mouse for examples of this. Hell, see your own first two albums for examples of this (except for “Boyz.” That song’s a bit annoying. But it’s still undeniably a song).

It could be, of course, that M.I.A. has made exactly the album she wanted to make and Maya is the first step in a bold new direction of patchwork hackery for her. In that case, I’ll still decline to take part in the backlash, but I will also decline to listen to her work. I believe in giving formerly good artists a chance to redeem themselves (I’m still waiting for the first good Elvis Costello album since When I Was Cruel. It’s coming. I think. The Delivery Man was almost it), and I honestly think the next M.I.A. record will be better. It can’t get much worse, can it?

But what do I know? I’m just another faithful soldier, installed on the internet by the C.I.A. with a strict mandate to enslave humanity, 40-60 readers at a time. Look into the face of Big Brother, slaves. Look and love…

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