M.I.A., Matangi (Interscope)
It now seems clear that the critical establishment has decisively turned on this Hounslow/Jaffna pop subversive, and for what? Musically, you see, she’s “out of touch,” her beats and production having “dated” in the weeks, nay, months this album lay festering upon Interscope’s shelves. Lyrically, well, she’s passé, name-checking Lara Croft and Kony 2012 (so last year), to say nothing of “Bring The Noize” (quarter century-old Public Enemy single) and all those “OM” inserts (the Upanishads - how retro). And horror of horrors, she “moralizes,” which I think means she’s got politics. Surely wealthy mothers like Ms. Arulpragasam need only concern themselves with peanut allergies and charter schools, not Julian Assange and offshore banking. How silly this all is. I love the “bad” puns (“Karmageddon,” “Sexodus”), dig the way she rhymes “cointreau” and “poncho” with “Castro,” think YALA is no dumber a personal philosophy than YOLO, and insist she aims her ire at proper targets - “it’s not me and you / it’s the fucking banks,” indeed. She updates “Dancin’ In The Streets” and names it “Matangi” after herself. She sticks a nearly two-year-old single in the album’s midst and wonders why you care. She reminds you “it’s so simple / get to the floor” as the dubby beats pound and pound and pound. Exhausting as Zen Arcade, intense as Death Grips, avant-funky as Terminator X, she’s still ice cream and you’re just sorbet.
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (Interscope)
No nostalgia trip - from the album cover’s boarded-up structure to Stan’s score-settling brother readying the chloroform, Marshall Mathers has never been more meta nor more conflicted. And although forty seems an advanced age to still consider “faggot” a useful verbal barb, there’s no denying he’s looking back upon Slim Shady’s antics with the benefit of accrued wisdom and (it must be noted) a curtailed wit. Not that he’s incapable of rude noises or even sustained comic dexterity. But his boasts barely break even against the merciless onslaught of doubt. Really, has there ever been a more self-loathing superstar, one more committed to agonizing over real-life injuries sustained and deployed, yet completely free of the self-pity and sanctimony gunking up many a fame-fueled confession? So even if virtuosic rhymes over dramatic bombast is your kind of thing, these unflaggingly intense fifteen tracks may eventually deplete you. But hold strong through the power ballad and the quasi-gay-baiting “Rap God,” because penultimate three song stretch “So Far…”/ “Love Game” / “Headlights” awaits you. The first rides a generous Joe Walsh sample while hilariously delineating the reasons Marshall still hoards Hamburger Helper and can’t leave Detroit. The next one makes room for the album’s sole guest verse, an appropriately gonzo Kendrick Lamar. And the emotional closer drops a complicated apology to the mother he’s been publicly trashing for fifteen years. No, he hasn’t gone soft. He just loves his kids enough to know that the biggest fuck-up in his life was his dead beat dad and that ma, as they say, tried.
Lady Gaga, ARTPOP (Streamline / Interscope)
Even true believers must admit she can’t feasibly continue being all things to all people, as witness dodgy charges of Orientalism darkening her seizure of the burqa as sexualized accessory. At times her Warholian detachment fails her, especially when reaching for the Deep Thought: “My ARTPOP could mean anything,” oh brother. And filler continues to plague this supposedly album-oriented artist, from celebrity gross out “Donatella” to utterly rote “Fashion!”. But Gaga coaxes forth more laughs per track than any supposed peer, whether yoking a blatant Zombie Zombie swipe the better to “blast off to a new dimension / in your bedroom” or prancing through the Grand Guignol “Swine” atop ludicrous British accent. Plus, unlike Warhol, she publicly and enthusiastically celebrates an evolving sex life, which sounds equally complicated (‘‘need you more than dope”) and satisfactory (“I just want it to be hot”), even if her sexxx dreams sometimes veer into Midnight Vulture-era Prince burlesque. Not quite the all-encompassing high/low or for that matter mind/body spectacular she no doubt had her sights on. But better winking odes to Himeros than earnest footnotes to Orpheus.
Cut Copy, Free Your Mind (Modular)
Originalists never, which means there’s no reason to be inherently disappointed at their swerve into overt acid house / baggy pastiche. And as acid house pastiche goes, it’s both quite expert (A Guy Called Gerald fans will flip) yet hardly pure (is that K-Klass sampled on “Let Me Show You Love”?). If you’re feeling generous, “We Are Explorers” might even qualify as a nicely melancholic standout single. But you’ll rarely believe this Aussie crew is loony enough to surrender to the blotto nonsense of prime Primal Scream. “We’re on a journey to the morning sun” - pretty good, pretty daft. But remember the wisdom of Shaun Ryder: “You’re twistin’ my melon, man”.