(4 out of 5)
Though it provided her with the biggest chart impact of her career, the placement of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” in the PINEAPPLE EXPRESS soundtrack was somewhat, er, incongruous. Not that one should insist that South Asians make music only for movies based in South Asia, but hearing “Paper Planes” again in the context of the soundtrack for Danny Boyle’s incredible, Bombay-based SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE makes more sense of both the song and the movie. The crackling, urban militancy at the song’s core beautifully reflects the chaotic and improbably optimistic milieu of Boyle’s film. Moreover, hearing M.I.A. collaborate with Indian soundtrack king A.R. Rahman on opening cut “O…Saya” provides a perspective on the rapper’s music that may have eluded many Western listeners; despite the overt Bollywood references of M.I.A. cuts like “Jimmy,” the rapper’s previous tunes have been greeted as less an extension of South Asian musical forms than as a grafting of those influences onto electronic music and hip-hop. Here – with Rahman’s sweeping compositions defining the sound of the film – M.I.A. becomes another top-shelf playback singer alongside the likes of long-running Bollywood talents like Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik and Sukwinder Singh. Rahman keeps a firm conceptual grip on the album’s overall sonic approach, and though glitch (“Liquid Dance”) and hip-hop (“Gangsta Blues”) make their way into the mix, it’s the grandiose attack of his digital orchestra that defines the proceedings here. For many, this may be their first opportunity to listen to a Bollywood soundtrack, and thankfully, Rahman provides an excellent introduction.