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M.I.A.

Kala
Interscope Records

Arular, the 2005 debut by Mathangi "M.I.A." Arulpragasam, got lotsa reviewers hot and bothered (and deservedly so), but only a relative handful of U.S. listeners succumbed to its multi-culti charms. Such sales disappointments generally lead to commercially motivated "adjustments" that leave no one satisfied. Fortunately, though, Kala avoids most of the usual pitfalls, resulting in an exotic dance party par excellence.

The closest thing to a misbegotten compromise here is the disposable "Come Around," featuring a too-long Timbaland cameo; it's the last track, making skipping easy. Lead single "Jimmy," built on a sample from the '80s-vintage Bollywood cult flick Disco Dancer, is also a mixed bag — but if Arulpragasam's wispy singing is less convincing than her vigorous chanting, the track's cheekiness makes up the difference. Better yet are "Boyz," "World Turn" and "XR," whose electro-instrumentation sports an Eastern edge as fresh as it is vital.

Statesiders may still balk at Kala — but at least they'll be rejecting something close to the genuine item rather than a watered-down capitulation to the marketplace.

 
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