MIA - Born Free - Singles - Reviews - Soundblab

MIA - Born Free

by Pete Sykes Rating:6 Release Date:2010-04-26

First, have you seen the video? My God. Banned from YouTube (but available here), which resulted in acres of free media coverage, its vision of ginger 'ethnic' cleansing provides probably the single most gruesome and disturbing promo ever made by a relatively mainstream pop act (or at least since Justice's notorious 'Stress', a violent satire also directed by Frenchman Romain Gavras). It's about as subtle as a sledgehammer smashing a lemon - like MIA herself. She has refused to explain the song or the video, but it seems like a clear reference to some of the atrocities committed against her Tamil people in Sri Lanka: a leaked film (a still from which provides the physical single's cover art) shot during the civil war showed the Sri Lankan army rounding up Tamils and coldly executing them - exactly what happens to some of the redheads in the video. Or is it about the Palestinians, or the IRA - both referenced in the film? Or Abu Ghraib? Or - as some have absurdly suggested - a reference to the new law in Arizona which allows police to detain anyone who looks vaguely Mexican on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant? Or all of the above? Whichever it is, you may argue that there are better, more nuanced ways of critiquing genocide or racial profiling than showing an 11-year old child being shot point blank in the head. But then genocide is rarely subtle or nuanced.

So the video is MIA at her brave, provocative best (and it makes the hyper-capitalist rococo schlockiness of Lady Gaga's 'controversial' 'Telephone' clip look like a Disney movie). And the song? Weeeelll. Not her best, frankly. It starts brilliantly with a chaotic, pounding beat and a repetetive, nightmarish buzz of bass, sampled from Suicide's 'Ghost Rider'. It sounds amazing, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is pretty much all the track has to offer. MIA's vocal could have been phoned in, so similar is it to some of her previous work, and despite some neat-sounding sloganeering ("I don't want to live for tomorrow/I'll push my luck today") and the viciously ironic title, it all feels a bit like apocalyptic-electro-pop-by-numbers. It's suitably nightmarish, kind of danceable (in a weird, violent way), and it works to excellent effect with the video, but it's not a patch on 'Galang', or 'Bucky Done Gun', or 'Boyz'. MIA. has clearly lost none of her ability to shock, but let's hope that her forthcoming album (as yet untitled) offers evidence that she's not lost the ability to produce brain-shreddingly brilliant pop music.

Pete Sykes

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