Just before she was publicly shamed with a plate of planted truffle fries, M.I.A. tried to secure her avant-pop bona fides by going after Lady Gaga, accusing the ascendant starlet of ripping her style (dubious) and of getting the ratio of awesome songs to awesome outfits wrong (pretty fair). One couplet in Santigold’s “Big Mouth” could be interpreted as a swipe at Ms. Germanotta (“Ga-ga-ga all slightly off/Not me I’ll take the loss”), but that would be just one more example of Santigold running congas-first into the M.I.A. comparisons that have dogged her since her debut. Santigold’s M.I.A. problem is actually a lot like Adele’s former Amy Winehouse problem: In one corner, you have a trendsetter who also happens to be an unstoppable font of charisma, and in the other, a challenger with a more powerful voice, a purer pop sensibility, and a thankfully diminished tendency to show up to shows on Ketamine or go on contentless rants about Sri Lankan terrorists.
Santigold’s best songs to date—her breakthrough “L.E.S. Artistes” and last year’s art-rock test balloon, “GO,”—don’t sound much like M.I.A. at all, and in that respect, “Big Mouth” is a big step backward. It’s hi-tech dancehall aesthetic, courtesy of Switch and Buraka Som Sistema, sets up camp about halfway between Switch’s work on Kala and his already fairly similar work with Diplo as Major Lazer. Even Santigold’s vocals, here one sound effect among many rather than a central focus, seem pretty narrowly derived from M.I.A.’s reverb-drenched taunts and yelps. With its Gatling-gun drumline and final-minute synth swarm, the track should make for an efficient dance-floor smash regardless, but as a pop song it’s essentially an inferior version of last year’s Beastie Boys collab, “Don’t Play No Games That I Can’t Win” (Major Lazer’s remix of which also happens to be a better dance number).
The choice of “Big Mouth” as a promo single seems especially safe given the way Santigold has talked up her forthcoming album, Master of My Make Believe. She’s boasted in interviews about prog-pop ballads in the vein of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, which makes it a little hard to understand: a) where “Big Mouth” will fit on such an album, and (b) why she isn’t more enthusiastic about unveiling her new sound. Then again, “Big Mouth” isn’t even slated to be an official single, so maybe when the first of those lands we’ll get a better a sense of how much Santigold has developed since her galvanizing 2008 debut.