Album Review: MGMT – Congratulations

By on Monday, 5th April 2010 at 2:00 pm
 

Ben Goldwasser of New York indie band MGMT made what I considered could be a career-killing comment about his group’s forthcoming album, saying they made an album with no obvious singles. While many seem fixated on how earth-shattering horrible this statement is, I contend that ‘Congratulations’ is a better album than everyone else in the media is saying.

By now, you’ve probably heard ‘Flash Delirium’, the first single to be released from the album, which has been panned, seemingly universally, for its departure from the radio-friendly singles of their debut ‘Oracular Spectacular’ like ‘Kids’. The main question I wanted to pose in regards to ‘Congratulations’ was, does the new direction work, or have MGMT finally flipped out? There were some seriously trippy moments on their debut, so I don’t think this new album is as much of a departure from their previous album as some people are making it out to be.

The album begins with some serious rocking out on ‘It’s Working’, so much that you may be apt to start pogo-ing to the main riff. Then lyricist Andrew Vanwyngarden’s voice, made angelic by healthy doses of reverb, comes in. Groovy, man. At times throughout the whole album, Vanwyngarden sounds like he’s channeling Stone Roses’s-era Ian Brown, which in my opinion is always a good thing. (This seems like a particularly peculiar statement to make at this point in time, since Ian Brown has been making waves as of late as a solo artist.)

‘Song for Dan Treacy’, a tribute to Television Personalities’ leader, is similarly poppy, with the guitars and Goldwasser’s synths contributing to one of this album’s best tunes. ‘Something’s Missing’ is the first clue to listeners that this is not going to be just any pop album. Vanwyngarden adopts a fey falsetto for the sleepy number that could be regarded as charming or creepy, depending what kind of music fan you are. It’s the lightweight contender for ‘polarising track’ on this release. Keep reading…

‘Flash Delirium’ didn’t grab me the first time I heard it on 6music. But it steadily grew on me, especially thanks to its melody, frenetic sung ending of ‘sue the spiders / sue the Welsh / stab your Facebook / sell sell sell!‘, and the bridge’s flute solo, sounding like it’d be at home in a ‘60s Peter Sellers comedy film or Benny Hill, not in a 21st century pop album). Goldwasser and Vanwyngarden, the heart and soul of MGMT, are the focal point of the song’s, shall we say unique, promo video (see below). Maybe I’m interpreting it completely wrong, but it made me laugh. For a long time.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvSMp7T2Kes[/youtube]

After the fun that is ‘Flash Delirium’, you feel somewhat let down by the thoughtful ‘I Found a Whistle’, followed by the proggy grandeur of the over 12-minute marathon ‘Siberian Breaks’. Think Pink Floyd, but less drawn out and with better lyrics. This is the part where MGMT is likely to lose their ‘Oracular Spectacular’ fans. Right after these more meditative moments, the next track comes pogo-ing in. Time will tell what Brian Eno, the subject of the song, will think of MGMT’s homage to him. The last two tracks, the instrumental ‘Lady Dada’s Nightmare’ and the title track, are lacklustre.

At nine tracks and a little over 40 minutes, one senses that this album could have gone on a lot longer, but I think they made the right decision, reining themselves in from going beyond the point of trippy-dippy no return. I imagine this is the kind of album you want to listen to in the dark on your sailboat in the middle of the ocean. It’s an album for reflection, not for a dance party. And that’s fine by me.

Amusingly, this album is also a big ol’ wink to Britain. Not only do the Welsh get name-checked, you’d never see on the words “The Half-arsed hugs of routine celebrations. Realisations.” on an American release. (If I’m being honest, as an American, I’m jealous.)

8/10

‘Congratulations’ will be released in the UK by Sony on 12 April. Tomorrow (06 April) Steve Lamacq will be broadcasting a special interview he did with MGMT on his drivetime show, 1600-1900, on BBC 6music. Catch it live or for 7 days after the initial broadcast on BBC iPlayer. The band have announced a six date tour of the UK for this September; tickets go on sale this Friday, 09 April.

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2 Responses

4:41 pm
5th April 2010

The stuff I’ve heard from this album has been really average. Perhaps it’s just a change in direction? I’ve heard a few positive reviews now so maybe it deserves another chance…

[…] if they’d kept their freewheeling, devil may care sound instead of going totally weird for ‘Congratulations’ and maybe turning towards a Naked and Famous direction? They might now sound like Scottish band […]

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