At the first glance, the front cover of ‘A.I.M’ is adorned with an olive-branch flanked logo, bearing the the slogan, “uniting people since 2003”. In title, it’s a straightforward enough statement, too, the precise mirror image of Maya Arulpragasam’s artistic moniker. And according to M.I.A herself, this is “my last record so I wanted it to be happy. There’s no complains on it.” She might be insisting that her so-called final record (whether she’s referring to her current record label, or total artistic output remains to be seen) is one of unity, but really, ‘A.I.M’ stands up as a self-aware piece of propaganda. “Everything will be ok,” it says with hinged mouth, while a gagged ventriloquist stands in the shadows, frantically waving for help.
Musically, ‘A.I.M’ doesn’t make vast steps on from its predecessor ‘Matangi’, colliding jangling rhythms with brash, lane-switching pop parps. Picking up more or or less where M.I.A left off - though not necessarily building not it - ‘A.I.M.’ is abrasive, and yep, as always, divisive in its messiness. It’s in M.I.A’s rhetoric, however, that she takes a massive hairpin turn, and swerves down entirely different avenues. She’s explored the ideas on this record’s plate before, but never with quite the same cutting scorn.
“Where we come from,” starts M.I.A on ‘Foreign Friend’, speaking from the point of view of an unspecified refugee, fleeing unspecified war, “we get out our tent, then we climb over the fence… then we get a Benz, flat-screen TV, then we pay rent… then we be your foreign friend.” It’s a reductionist re-telling - complete with a smirking stage aside - custom-written for a bleak, post-Brexit UK where many people genuinely believe that fleeing wars (that are definitely not the fault of the Western world, most definitely not) for a cushy life on state benefits, really is as simple as a quick fence-hop. On ‘Borders,’ meanwhile, M.I.A mocks the privilege of superficial internet politics, asking “borders, what’s up with that?” in unconcerned deadpan.
Today, we live in a world where one in every 122 people worldwide is now a refugee, asylum seeker or displaced person. Countless dangers face these people every single day as they flee their homes in the face of unspeakable violence to build a better life, and yet hatred, bigotry, and racism is a rising force in response. Wilfully entering this headspace, albeit with clear sarcasm, satire, and a liberal use of under-the-rug sweeping for yet more effect, serves a political purpose in its own right for M.I.A. Off the back of countless conflicts over bootlegged football shirts, flipped middle fingers, and controlling major labels, she’s an artist tired of battle. Here, her political statements are far less direct, intentionally vague, or otherwise, steeped with irony.
A contrary, hard to grapple with statement on superficial, RT-if-you-support-this-cause politics, M.I.A’s album is one that stands composed with a fixed grin, while internally raging. A strange, slightly inconclusive goodbye wave - if that is what ‘A.I.M’ actually is, after all - this supposed final record demonstrates just one thing. Not a single thing has changed since 2003, and the world is still a properly shit place. A bleak and wilfully impenetrable album, the world M.I.A speaks of won’t be saved by the puny looking olive branches on the cover. That’s perhaps the punchline, except here, there’s no joke.