MIA – AIM (3 stars)

Fiercely political fifth album from MIA

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Mia – Aim

In a parallel universe, Maya 'MIA' Arulpragasam would have been making headline political statements at the Superbowl halftime show in place of Beyoncé, instead of being threatened with legal action by the NFL after flipping the middle finger during a walk-on part with Madonna in 2012. Young, forthright, fiercely creative and dependably outspoken about politics in both her countries of birth (the UK) and upbringing (Sri Lanka), she was a breath of cool fresh air when her debut album Arular hit in 2005 and her single 'Paper Planes' was a transatlantic hit three years later.

Now, a full 13 years on from her debut single, MIA is back with her fifth album AIM, and she's already told Annie Mac in interview that she expects it will be her last. Of course, given that she's only 41, it seems unlikely that a break and a change of scenery won't re-energise her for another return to the recording studio, but it's true that there's an element of closure to AIM It's concerned but not angry, enthusiastic but not excited, reflective but not given to the infectious, youthful rage of past works.

Like Beyoncé, she's added a song called 'Survivor' to her own repertoire (the closing track here), but there's no sense of booty-shaking feminist ferocity to it. 'They can never stop me / who said it was easy?' she sings gently over a twinkling, poppy backdrop, her words speaking of resistance and longevity, but her voice suggesting weary closure. Contrast with the edgy confusion which begins the record on 'Borders'; 'Freedom, 'I'dom, 'me'dom / where's your 'we'dom?' she asks the world. 'Borders, politics, police shots, identities'; all have only one answer, and that's a frayed 'what's up with that?'

There's a certain fierceness here, as anticipated, but it's of a particularly possessed kind. Two tracks have been co-produced by Skrillex, yet they're anything but EDM bangers, with 'Go Off' and 'AMP (All My People)' both bearing a loping, bass-laden Indian rhythm (the latter track was first recorded in India, and almost released on Matangi in 2013) and a sharp, pop-cultural lyrical edge. 'My name is Neymar and you know I'm not normal,' she hollers on the former, bringing football onto the scene, and declaring ominously on the latter, 'you want me, pay me / you can't Tupac me / you can't Biggie me.'

If the record's about any unifying theme, it's about the refugee crisis, not as broad-brush political issue, but as a lived narrative experience which she's better placed to commentate on than many. The pulsing a cappella loop 'Jump In' is a meditation on self-determination, declaring 'when I see that border / gonna cross the line… gonna hit the sea like Noah's Ark / illegal'; she talks of 'refugees learn about patience' on the breezy ambient pop of 'Freedun'; 'Visa' imagines a Mexican migrant trying to make it into the United States ('at the border I see the patroller … hidin' in my Toyota Corolla').

The subtext of most of the album is made explicit on 'Foreign Friend', whose narrative cleverly weaves together an ode to a best friend, a yearning for a partner, and the desire for acceptance felt by a young refugee trying to adapt to a new culture. Throughout the record, whether backed by minimal, icy beats or bright Arabic pop, this sense of consciousness and attunement to the crisis of our times is never far from the surface, but backed by a light pop sensibility which borders at times on resignation.

AIM is out now on Interscope.

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