Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1
|GWEN STEFANI |
It's appropriate that, among the many ridiculously catchy breaks on Piracy Funds Terrorism, the most ridiculously catchy is the "Sanford and Son" sample that anchors "URAQT." The hook compiled from a bare snippet of the show's theme song is instantly effective and, like the rest of the disc, steeped in junk and grime. The hook makes the song (about a cheating boyfriend busted via text messaging) another gleaming scrap of cobbled-together perfection.
M.I.A. was born Maya Arulpragasam in Sri Lanka. This is not important because her music sounds "Sri Lankan." This is important because her family is Tamil, an ethnic minority in the country that, rather than allow itself to be exterminated or subjugated, has engaged in a decades-long guerilla war against the Sinhalese majority. Bombings, hostage-taking and assassinations have been common tactics of the movement with which her father was deeply involved. Eventually, the threat of violence forced a move to London, where she got involved in music.
M.I.A. is not soft. But no matter its provocative title, this CD is not a political polemic either. It's not even an official album. M.I.A. is set to release her debut disc, Arular, next year, an event that's been hotly anticipated since her "Galang" single alone helped her land on the cover of Fader. Piracy was concocted over a 10-day period in October with Philadelphia DJ Diplo (who was commissioned to remix "Sunshowers" by M.I.A.'s label) and is little more than a loose and trashy mash-up/mixtape. Consider it a junkyard CD-R filled with illegal samples and teeth-rattling bass, packaged like the discs for sale by dancehall DJs after they've rocked a crowd for hours.
The first half merges a handful of M.I.A. tracks like "Galang" and "Amazon" with bits of Missy Elliott, Clipse and even LL Cool J. Diplo's seamless mix eases M.I.A.'s unusual verbal style one that's sing-songy and aggressively confrontational into a more understandable hip-hop/reggaeton context on these opening cuts. By the time "Sunshowers" rolls around (track 13 of 21), we're off in an alternate universe that's more indicative of M.I.A.'s true style than Arular will be. Why? Because Arular will be hamstrung by copyrights, and it's unlikely the array of astonishing beats Diplo brought to the table will be affordable for legal use, anyway. Whether it's "Sanford and Son," "When Doves Cry," "Egypt, Egypt," "Walk Like an Egyptian" (unbelievably, not in the same song as "Egypt, Egypt") or any of the other "I can't believe he just used that" samples that make their way into these tracks, the disc's effectiveness comes from Diplo's track-making. But that's not to say that M.I.A. is a novel mouthpiece, fronting for some mad-scientist DJ; it's her unique style and willingness to toss verbal grenades such as "My dad's a freedom fighter, dog" that makes for such a revolutionary party a party to which Gwen Stefani would never get invited.
Love.Angel.Music.Baby. is the No Doubt singer's solo debut, and Stefani has emphasized in interviews that the album was conceived as a "party record" that she off-handedly tossed off. What a bunch of crap. The best song on the record the brain-crushingly catchy "What You Waiting For?" was co-written with Linda Perry (at the suggestion/insistence of Stefani's label), and an all-star cast of producers from Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and The Neptunes, to Dr. Dre and Andre 3000 come aboard to lend a hand. Rest assured that these appearances were not casual collaborations.
Although L.A.M.B. manages, just barely, to be an enjoyable even fun listen, it suffers from being incredibly vacuous and overwrought. "Fun" is no excuse for the stupidity of Stefani's horrible, horrible lyrics. "I'm fascinated by the Japanese fashion scene" is one of the clunkiest lines ever recorded by a pop star, and it's far from alone. The piled-on production does nothing to bolster the thinly conceived music that lies beneath the words. The thing about making a party record is that the musicians must have fun doing it, but L.A.M.B. is pure product, gilded with false intentions. If Stefani had cut the tracks as she wrote (or co-wrote) them, without feeling the need to call in every A-list producer in her A&R guy's Rolodex, this disc would have been more enjoyable, and she might have wound up with the gleeful new-wave revival record that she was aiming for. As it is, she wound up with a messy batch of songs that are way overcooked.