"Stars come and go," Maya Arulpragasam sings as her fifth album comes to a close, and it's another reminder of what a self-aware artist she is. On AIM, which was rumored to be her final album at the time of its release, she sounds revitalized. For someone supposedly ending her career, M.I.A. issued a lot of music in the months prior to the album's arrival. Several of her best songs didn't even appear on AIM's final track list (the excellent "Swords," which samples clashing blades for its beat, only appears on a deluxe edition of the album). Nevertheless, M.I.A. sounds more relevant on AIM than she has in some time. As a musician who always sought to break boundaries, it's fitting that she explores the issues facing refugees, immigrants, and others at the mercy of geographical and political borders with renewed passion. Though the trap-tinged "Borders," which premiered in late 2015 with a powerful music video inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis, loses a little something when stripped of its visuals, she fares better on "Go Off," where she sings of the "fans back home" over a Skrillex/Blaqstarr production that blends traditional music with contemporary beats -- a classic M.I.A. tactic, if there ever were one. As the title suggests, Arulpragasam comes full circle on AIM, revisiting some of her career highlights along the way. She name-drops "Bamboo Banga" on "Visa," which shares the feeling that M.I.A. represented a new pop paradigm; alludes to "Bad Girls" on "Foreign Friend"; peppers "Finally"'s dancehall rhythms with gunshots à la "Paper Planes"; and harks back to the storytelling of her earlier albums on "Ali R U OK," where she tells her overworked refugee lover "I haven't even seen you since we left Calais." While some songs recall Matangi's droning cul de sacs, more often than not Arulpragasam remembers to include melody and fun, particularly on the swaggering "A.M.P (All My People)." "Freedun," which features former One Direction member Zayn, is a highlight that proves M.I.A. still has the ability to surprise. Even if AIM is more scattered than her finest work, at its best it plays like a scrapbook that pieces together over a decade's worth of sounds and issues.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares