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To say the least, M.I.A. has never been the most conventional pop star.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But on Maya, the Sri Lankan's third album, M.I.A. crosses that delicate line between innovative art and shallow noise. To put it frankly, it's a mess. Half-baked songs and a lack of real direction dominate an album whose thematic premise had much promise.

To understand Maya in a nutshell, look no further than its album cover. On it, we see M.I.A. hiding behind a wall of YouTube video players, staring back at us. Maya is essentially an overload of electronic static, heavy beats and other loud noises, and notably lacks the pop hooks and influence of international music that made her first two albums so unique and exciting.

I can't reiterate enough that the album is an overload of noises: some songs are simply annoying, on the first and twentieth listens. What sticks out on "Teqkilla," for example, is not its party-branded lyrics or M.I.A.'s signature monotone rapping, but the synths that blare out of your headphones and drown out the song. Same goes for "Meds and Feds," M.I.A.'s failed attempt to sample and recreate the music of Sleigh Bells, one of the year's hottest acts. Several other songs, including "Space," "It Takes A Muscle," and "Born Free," simply feel unfinished and unsatisfying.

Nevertheless, Maya does have its moments. "XXXO" is easily the album's catchiest moment, and the only song that has the slightest chance of becoming a hit. It's fun, danceable, and perhaps even one or two minutes too short. And rather than drowning out everything in its sight, the synths on "XXXO" complement rather than dominate the song.

Then there's "Internet Connection," where M.I.A. builds a dance song around, what else, her struggles with computer software. It's hilarious, dumb, and most of all, fun. It's also a rarity for an album that, if anything, tries way too hard to be fun.


Best Tracks: "XXXO," "Internet Connection," "Tell Me Why"

-David Biel