During her fourth album Matangi, M.I.A sounded burned out. After long delays to the album’s release, the entire experience of the record was disjointed and untimely. With her fifth album AIM, the story is nearly the same, but much worse — very few tracks feel complete, leading to a major lack of cohesion in this project.
To put this album in context is key, especially considering that M.I.A. herself has said it’s her last. Whatever the reason may be, promotion for AIM spanned over a year, which is usually a sign there’s either a label dispute going on or the music itself isn’t up to snuff. In this case, it’s both.
The record’s first two tracks actually start out surprisingly okay. “Borders” is easily the most listenable banger on the album, and there’s a degree of songwriting and storytelling in “Go Off” that few pop stars today can match.
From there, however, the LP takes a nose dive. Several tracks bring in themes of borders and refugees. As a refugee of the Sri Lankan Civil War, M.I.A. has been an outspoken activist for the rights of immigrants. But instead of driving her positions home on these issues, she dances around them and tries to create engaging pop with little to no success.
“Bird Song,” the album’s fourth single, was produced by extraordinaire in mediocrity Diplo and is the hollowest song on the track listing with an utterly horrible beat to back. Immediately after, M.I.A. follows up with “Jump In,” a sample-based song meant to get your heart racing. However, it’s nearly impossible to take this song seriously after such a lazy tune in “Bird Song,” leading to another let down.
The worst part of AIM is easily its lyrics. During the album’s fifth single “Freedun,” which features Zayn Malik of One Direction fame, M.I.A. proclaims, “I’m a swagger man, rolling in my swagger van, from the People’s Republic Of Swaggerstan.” If one bar could represent this entire album, this one would, falling flat on its face while sounding like it was written by a 12-year-old who had just heard Tupac for the first time.
Not every track on the album after the second ends up as filler, but even the songs that seem successful upon first listen often become broken-down and monotonous with a second or third. “Survivor” is a decent track about her many controversies and opinions, but even it has very little backbone. Most of the time M.I.A. leans on her backstory to keep her songs afloat, but for listeners that want to focus on the music, nearly every song on this record will fall flat.
By the end of one listen to AIM, any listener with ears is going to be left wondering what happened to M.I.A. Sure, Matangi wasn’t out of the park, but it had its promising moments. AIM features no endearing characteristics, a half-assed production style, poor lyricism and an overall abrasive sound and stands a disappointing conclusion to one of experimental pop’s premier figures.