M.I.A’s fifth album AIM is, if we are to take her word for it, the last. Despite this, the tone of the record is triumphant and positive, even as it continues to deal with a host of difficult world issues such as global conflict and censorship. The over-arching message is one of perseverance in the face of grim reality, and a joyous devotion to causes that have an undeniable importance. On Aim, M.I.A’s fierce and rebellious spirit remain completely intact, and are matched by a musical playfulness and sense of adventure that have made her a charismatic presence in the world of pop since her 2005 debut.
The album begins on an immediately appealing and strong note with “Borders”, a deep-grooved song that serves to define the lyrical and musical terrain. Beginning with the lines “Freedom/ I don’t need ‘em/ Where’s your rhythm? / This world needs a brand new rhythm”, M.I.A continues throughout the song to expand on the need for a critical solidarity amongst all the people of the world against nefarious forms of institutional power. The cyclical, entrancing modal melodies of the track serve to amplify the refrain of “What’s up with that?” as the singer lists off some of the more contentious factors which face the modern landscape.
M.I.A confidently addresses her place in this world on mid-album quasi-ballad “Freedun” with the lines “I don’t need any audition/ I just got my own little mission/ It grew bigger than a politician/ History is just a competition/ Do you wanna sign my petition?”. The singer seems to be addressing her veteran status throughout AIM, and her dedication to creating work that contains depth, honesty and humanity. Similarly, on closing cut “Survivor” she repeats “Who said it was easy/ They can never stop we”. AIM is full of invocations for unity and strength during tumultuous times, and M.I.A conflates this global strength with her altruistic dedication to making a positive artistic impact.
Like much of M.I.A’s work, there is also a palpable sense of playfulness and fun, which certainly helps provide an invigorating balance to her music. The best example of this on AIM is “Bird Song”, which sets bubbly bird-evoking production against various bird puns and wordplay. It’s funny and clever, and still manages to conclude on a profound note, with the lines “My love comes in silence/ Through ideals and violence”, perhaps alluding to her apparent retirement.
AIM’s only real flaw is that some of the shorter, more lyrically minimal tracks such as “Fly Pirate” and “Go Off” come across as a bit inconsequential when compared with the more complex and fleshed out ones. But even these songs function well within the context of the album as a whole, which is an engaging and thought provoking listen. While it may lack the element of surprise and startling ingenuity of her first releases, this does not mean it isn’t a welcome and compelling addition to her catalogue. It would be a shame if AIM was M.I.A’s last contribution to music, as artists with this much character, depth, and integrity clearly do not come around very often.
review by Dan Geddes