Let’s get one thing out of the way that really bothers me about this album–I don’t like how the “Deluxe” edition of the album is the only version available (at least on streaming services). This album works extremely well even when you consider the “bonus” tracks after “Survivor” as part of the album. I think even the Diplo remix of “Bird Song” fits extremely well. But that’s just nitpicking. Fuck it. AIM is fantastic.
When this album initially released back in September I was unreasonably excited to hear it, so much so that I think it soured my experience of the album. The songs MIA released prior to AIM, “Borders”, “Platforms”, and “Swords” made me think that AIM was going to be very cohesive in tone and sound. It’s not. At least that’s what I thought. Tracks like “Bird Song”, “Jump In”, and “Fly Pirate” threw me off and it took me a while to warm up to the album, mainly because those tracks, especially “Jump In” and “Fly Pirate” really jolted me out of the experience every time I heard them. I’m still not the biggest fan of those two tracks, but I gotta say, since MIA dropped POWA earlier this month, I’ve found myself listening to this album pretty much every day.
This album is, more than any of MIA’s previous work, for people who are already fans of her music. She doesn’t really push her sound any further, even regressing in some respects–but she’s at a point in her career where she doesn’t have to. There are even tracks on this album that wouldn’t feel out of place on pop radio.
“Freedun” alone is probably her most radio friendly song since “Paper Planes”. It’s a straightforward rap track with a feature from fucking Zayn Malik from One Direction, one of the last people I’d ever even imagine working with MIA–and it sounds good. I mean the lyrics in his hook don’t really fit in with the lyrical content of the song, which deals with MIA’s position in popular culture, both as a political figure and as a musician–before Zayn comes in with “All the stars are still shining/ But you’re the only one I see/ I can feel when your heart beats, yeah/ Babe, you can’t keep your eyes off me”.
Besides the lyrical dissonance above, and tracks like “Bird Song”, this is probably the most tonally consistent album she’s made. “Borders” in this respect serves as a mission statement of sorts. MIA has always represented refugees from all over the world, and in the political climate we’re in now with Muslim refugees serving as a scapegoat for everybody’s problems, a voice like MIA is needed. While some of the tracks here display an element of braggadocio (especially on “Go Off” and to some extent “Finally”) this album shines in its advocacy of refugees from all over the world. “Ali R U OK?”, “A.M.P. (All My People)”, “Foreign Friend” and “Visa” are where this theme is especially evident. In “Ali R U OK?” she even plays the role of an immigrant worker “All this money that I be taking/ I’m just shaking what I’m making/ I’m sending bread and bacon/ Back home so they can/ Fix what’s broken” illustrating the motivation most people have when they come to the US or to the UK, whether they come from the Middle East, Mexico, or wherever else–they’re trying to make a better life for their family, not game a system for personal gain.
Anybody who knows me knows how much of an MIA fan I am, so I might be biased. I know that this album wasn’t received particularly well, but I think MIA really made something special with this album. It might not have a viral hit like “Bad Girls”, “XXXO”, “Paper Planes” or “Galang”, but give it a listen anyways. If you’re into Hip Hop or Dance music with a bit of an experimental and a political twist to it, you’ll love this thing. It might not be her most immediate album, but give it time–it will grow on you.
Fuck, “Swords” is a great goddamn song.