‘Tuned In’ review: Aggressive M.I.A. challenges, charms

'Matangi' by M.I.A.

"Matangi" by M.I.A.

It would be futile for experimental electro artist M.I.A. to court the U.S. mainstream, though she drew inspiration for her new “Matangi” from the widespread outrage she spawned when she flipped off the camera (as a supporting vocalist for Madonna) during the 2012 Super Bowl.

Affecting an incensed American on the track “Boom Skit,” she wryly sings, “Brown girl, brown girl, turn your (expletive) down/You know America don’t wanna hear your sound … go back to India.” (Note: She grew up in London and Sri Lanka, not India.)

Droll, though “Matangi’s” charisma doesn’t usually come at the expense of others. She’s generally in a happier place now than she was in her pricklier days, downright disarming on the surreal “Lights,” where she sings, “I used to be a bad girl, now I’m even better.”

Ironically, the track “Bad Girls” is the accessible centerpiece of “Matangi,” with its raucous world-music beat and jangle and the infectious mantra, “Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well” followed by the seductive come on, “If I go to bed, baby, can I take you?”

Elsewhere on the mind-bending “Matangi,” M.I.A. is more challenging to her audience, experimenting with a disorienting and aggressive mélange of chants, beats and electronica. Her opening few tracks, highlighted by the penetrating and siren-laced title track, cast an improbably hypnotic spell with their layers of cacophonous confusion.

The soul of the eclectic “Matangi” comes in its middle, starting with the girl-group coyness of “Come Walk With Me” and including “Bad Girls,” “Boom Skit” and the enthralling “Y.A.L.A.,” where she challenges the “you only live once” attitude with the notion of karma.

The battering-ram “Bring the Noize” sets up “Matangi’s” insinuating finale, a trio of swirling tracks (“Lights,” “Know It Ain’t Right” and “Sexodus”) that send the singer off into the ether.

M.I.A. proves surprisingly endearing for someone who gave us all the finger.

Rating: 4 stars (out of five)

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