It Takes a Muscle

Here we can see dancehall queen M.I.A. singing a subdued love song with a live band of real instruments. It’s a little bit uncharacteristic for someone best known for scrabbling songs together from a patchwork of wacky samples. She pulls it off and reminds us that she has a good, distinctive voice and the ability to be emotive. It would, in fact, be interesting to hear her do something acoustic and more focussed on vocal performance, but it looks like she’s still preoccupied with the possibilities of the digital. Not to blame her; she’s great at assembling a stunning variety of disparate elements into one thoroughly modern, post-globalized pop sound. And as nice as her performance is here, it still pales in comparison to her more typical frenetic and ravey live shows. She’s much more at home just running around with only a couple of keyboards and badass light show. On the other hand, this becalmed and respectable take can be a good introduction to M.I.A. for people not already familiar with her. She’s dialed back her usual weirdness for the sake of Jools Holland’s audience; the album take of It Takes a Muscle is decidedly more eccentric, with lots of digital manipulation and weird glitches (though still one of her more accessible songs.) You could also go in another direction from here and check out the icy original version by Spectral Display, an obscure Dutch group. I’ve never been aware of the Dutch synth music scene, but hey, if these guys command enough cred that M.I.A. wants to cover them, they must be something.

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