A pop artist's fourth record is by definition fraught. Does she keep on doing what she's been doing? Throw everything out and start from scratch? Go po-mo, make an album that winkingly comments upon the earlier three?
In 1989, both Madonna and Janet Jackson released follow-up albums to the ones that made them superstars, the albums that redefined their image and built upon the solid foundation of their earlier work. Neither of them peaked too early, making No. 4 a victory lap on which they simply had to not screw up.
The modern pop machine moves quicker. Britney and Beyoncé both had to use album No. 4 as statement albums, missives to the world that they were taking control of their career and refusing to be defined solely by their earlier successes. They were departure albums. M.I.A.'s fourth, Matangi, finds the artist committing to neither road. She isn't doing a victory lap - album No. 3 was her big "fuck you" release, purposefully abrasive and angry. She also isn't taking ownership -the tragedy is that she thinks she's doing that. On Beyoncé's 4 and Spears' In the Zone, both artists were saying, "I know exactly who I am, and it's not who you think." Matangi says, "I still don't know who I am. You got a problem with that?"
Too much of the album is devoted to manifesto tracks like "Warriors" that are dull retreads of the artist's Kala and Arular-era persona. (I cannot even talk about "Y.A.L.A." and how insipid and miscalculated it is.) "Know It Ain't Right" is exactly the kind of relaxing into her image that M.I.A. should be doing right now.