Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

M.I.A.: Arular [XL, 2005]
The deepest cut on Arular is "Amazon," where M.I.A. the favela funk thief depicts herself as a cultivated Brit kidnapped by Brazilian criminals. She's missing from Acton, her London 'hood, but after she fell for that palm tree smell, "bodies started merging." The vertiginous excitement of pan-ethnic identity, so unlike the purity the Tamil Tigers kill for, imbues every pieced-together track, but only on "Hombre," a pidgin-Spanish proposition with a sitar intro, does it get quite so explicit. Violence is everywhere, dropped casually like a funk grenade or flaunted instructively as in the oft quoted "It's a bomb yo/So run yo/Put away your stupid gun yo." But not for a moment does the violence seem vindictive, sadistic, or pleasurable. It's a fact of life to be triumphed over, with beats and tunelets stolen or remembered or willed into existence. This is the territory I've always wished Missy Elliott would risk, and let's not be coy about how M.I.A. got there. "Banana Skit" starts the album with her only message: "Get yourself an education." A