M.I.A., "AIM" (Interscope)
M.I.A., the world-beat rapper and enemy of confection pop, has never gone in only one direction. So it's kind of weirdly fitting that on her latest album she's joined by someone few expected — a onetime member of One Direction.
The British-born, Sri Lankan-reared Mathangi Arulpragasam, who famously flashed her middle finger during the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, returns with "AIM," a messy, unpredictable and always thrilling batch of songs, one that includes former boy bander Zayn Malik on a dreamy "Freedun."
Her fifth studio album is an urgent meditation on worldwide refugees, examining borders, foreignness and freedom. It's a welcome perspective: Who else writes about sneaking across a border while hiding in a Toyota Corolla?
Easily the best song is opening track "Borders," a sardonic stab at Western blindness in which M.I.A. uses a Valley girl taunt as a chorus — "What's up with that?" — as she questions our obsessions with things like "slaying it" and "being bae."
"AIM " leans on looped electronic samples and some wear out their welcome fast, like on "Bird Song (Blaqstarr Version)" and "Fly Pirate." But M.I.A., who teamed up with Skrillex and Blaqstarr on many tracks, skitters from Bollywood to thumping house beats to ensure a constant swirl of propulsive music.
She twists language cleverly, sprinkling in references to "Breaking Bad," MC Hammer and the soccer star Neymar. She even samples from herself, reusing "Galang." As provocative as ever, she acknowledges on "Finally": "I'm someone's shot of whiskey, not everyone's tea."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits