I, for one, couldn't bear the excitement, I loved all the the tracks I'd heard so far. I'll walk you through them:
First, back in February, we were given BirdFlu. The video on YouTube was a bit pixel-y, but still great fun. I love the little boy at the front of the crowd!
Straight away, M.I.A. set the tone - this wasn't going to be a polished, heavily produced album. This was street. As street as The Streets, and his copycats, from Lily Allen onwards. What makes it street is her use of dhol drums, bhangra beats, backing vocals from a bunch of kids, and choice of language in her lyrics. None of it will mean much to the pampered and privileged, who can take their overblown, tasteful, bland music and stick it where the sun don't shine, Birdflu is for the people.
The next track to assail my senses was Boyz, which I came across in June.
Defies description but I'll do my best: bhangra goes to the West Indies. How's that? The street theme goes up a notch and incorporates graffiti in the video. All those blocks and stripes of pure colour in the background hint at world flags. In the video, she kind of reminds me of a young Madonna, as she was in the early 80s, full of attitude and energy. Talking of energy, that's what Bjork forgot to include in Volta. With every listen of Kala, I keep being reminded of Madonna and Bjork. M.I.A. has achieved what they are both renowned for and have lost along the way. Volta was a huge disappointment to me, I'm still not over it. And if the leaked clip of the new Madonna track on YouTube is anything to go by, the new offering is barely going to be average. For energy, innovation and attitude, they ought to look at M.I.A. and take notes.
I had to wait till the end of July for the next treat, Bamboo Banga. Drier in sound, M.I.A. focuses more on grime. There's no humour. Just seriousness and aggression. Pure attitude.
I just had to make do with a remix at the beginning of August and next thing I knew, it was 21st August! Release day!
Bamboo Banga opens the album. Then our old friends Birdflu and Boyz get us up on our feet, doing our best bhangra moves.
After such a friendly opener, you'd think you'd have a chance to breathe, but no, M.I.A. goes Bollydisco and gives us Jimmy.
Jimmy was originally in the Bollywood film Disco Dancer (1982), directed by Bappi Lahiri who also did the soundtrack. The movie was a huge hit in India and Russia. M.I.A. says she remembers performing the song for her family when she was a little girl. I haven't seen the film but I'll hunt it down now, it sounds fabulous. Bappi Lahiri (clicky for link to wiki), as music director borrowed heavily from western disco. Jimmy is based on the 80s hit for Ottawan - You're Ok. If the link's still good, you can hear it here. And clicky here for the original Jimmy.
After Jimmy, the album shifts and heads towards Africa. From Hussel (feat. Afrikan Boy) onwards, I must admit, I wasn't sure. Ok, first listen, I didn't sit down throughout the whole album. I mean after a few listens, when I actually started absorbing the tracks. Her mix of bhangra, hip-hop and grime continues, but hereon in, it doesn't shine so much. It's cool, there's no doubt, but the sound is now grubby, tatty, much darker in tone. Think blackened silver as opposed to shiny. Beats are deep and heavy. In 20 Dollar she sings "I put people on the map who ain't seen a map." Some critics have been incensed by her arrogance, but I would just direct them to her attitude, as described at the top of this journal.
If there's one element I don't like it's the references to guns. She doesn't glamourise them, she uses them as found sounds, as in musique concrète. You first notice them in 20 Dollar as gunshots, and in World Town as gun prep, but they're very much in the foreground in Paper Planes, which you can listen to here. I found gunshots and the sound of a gun being cocked used as rhythm disturbing, but the effect is lightened juxtaposed with the ring of a cash register. Lyrics are just the wrong side of indulgent, it's not radio-friendly, but it is certainly interesting.
To conclude, Kala may not please everybody, and not everybody will understand some of the subtleties M.I.A. uses, for example her singing style which is the Indian equivalent of her London accent, but all in all, it should definitely be amongst the best releases of 2007.