"Paper Planes" is one of the most oddest pop singles of the year -- how often do you hear guns used as percussion?
Regardless, this sharply pointed song -- as inexplicably controversial as it is catchy -- makes a pretty good showing on "Paper Planes: Homeland Security Remixes", along with four solid. The original is one of M.I.A.'s highlights, and fortunately it does not lose its magic when other people have reworked and remixed it.
It's a glorious combo of cool airy keyboard, solid beats, and a sample from the Clash. In the meantime, M.I.A. tells us that, "I fly like paper, get high like planes/If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name.... Pirate skulls and bones/Sticks and stones and weed and bombs/Running when we hit them/Lethal poison through their system."
For the record, it's apparently all about immigration. And the song would merely be entertaining if it weren't for the chorus -- a bunch of childlike voices singing, "All I want to do is..." followed by a string of gunshots, and a cash register pinging. It's so deliciously unexpected, and so perfectly woven in to the infectious rap melody.
And then there's the remixes -- the DFA mix skewers the song with a muscular bassline and lots of electronic tinkles, while Scottie B revs it all up to eleven. Sure, it loses that cool shimmery sound, but instead you get this wild frenetic dance-time beat and wildly tinkered-with vocals from M.I.A -- sometimes she's too slow, sometimes she's fast. Delicious.
Two mixes don't quite make it as well -- the Afrikan Boy & Rye Rye mix mainly enhances that cool ringing sound and includes some guy rapping, as does the Diplo Street Remix. Big Bun and Rich Boy are more impressive-sounding, but they simply don't fit in that well with the original song.
So basically you've got the typical run of remixes -- some are brilliant, some are merely decent and somewhat disjointed in their style. But it always helps to have a solid song as the base for the remixes, and in the case of "Paper Planes," it's among M.I.A.'s most infectious and most message-laden.
The original song is pretty much ideal in its composition -- lots of gorgeous earthy beats, a shimmery backdrop, and gunshots and cash registers instead of typical percussion. And M.I.A's clear, vibrant, lightly accented voice runs through it all, making her not-so-subtle prods against the perception of immigrants.
And the song is so solid, in fact, that adding extra beats and basslines doesn't derail or cover it up at all. The only thing that puts me off is the other rappers coming in, because their deep gritty voices don't play well of M.I.A.'s. But at least their raps tend to mesh well with the original song, with laments about "fresh from Nigeria... someone stole my visa!" and "world wide worry/with the hunger and the thirst."
"Paper Planes: Homeland Security Remixes" is a pretty decent remix EP, highlighting one of M.I.A's best songs. Definitely worth immigrating for.