Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

MGMT “Congratulations” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

Imagine yourself in the place of MGMT‘s Ben Goldwasser. Following the amazing success of your band’s Oracular Spectacular, which has now sold over one million copies worldwide, you finalize production on your new album, and in preparation for its release you (the royal “you”) make a song available to fans as a free download. But rather than it being lavished in praise, as many were likely expecting, “Flash Delirium” is almost universally snubbed. Do you: a) Go on about your business, b) Take the feedback into consideration, ultimately dismissing it as it goes against your “artistic vision,” or c) Apologize? Regardless of what you might do, Goldwasser went with the latter, explaining the band’s new direction in a recent interview, and concluding with an apology. But is an apology really necessary? There’s no disputing the generation-defining grandiose of “Time To Pretend,” the unforgettable simplicity of “Kids,” or the stylish fluidity of “Electric Feel,” but that’s not exactly what MGMT are “going for” with Congratulations. Sure, the new release is a huge stylistic departure, but an “I’m Sorry”? Really?

As Goldwasser would go on to explain to Spinner, Congratulations is something of a reactionary statement dismissing the rapid rise to fame that the band has experienced. “We’re trying to come to grips with that world. It’s not our world. We don’t feel comfortable in it. But we didn’t want to make that typical second album either, about fame. So we’re definitely observing it, as opposed to revelling in it.” And in discussing the release with NME, Goldwasser explained how the band views the release in contrast to their past successes, “There definitely isn’t a ‘Time To Pretend’ or a ‘Kids’ on the album.” He continued, “We’d rather people hear the whole album as an album and see what tracks jump out rather than the ones that get played on the radio—if anything gets played on the radio!” So rather than coasting off of what now seems destined to be MGMT’s most commercially successful record the band is following a different direction and making music that feels true to the moment. Again, can it really be so bad that an apology is in order?

It’s Working” leads off Congratulations as a fairly lighthearted track with a understated post-punk bass line. “Song For Dan Treacy” follows as a mod-rock throwback infused with an electric organ and a series of effects. “Someone’s Missing” quietly introduces itself through Andrew Van Wyngarden’s echo-heavy vocals, but just as soon as it begins to pick up speed a gentle funk fades the track out. The ire-raising “Flash Delirium” and “I Found A Whistle” round out the first half of Congratulations, though each honestly fails at revealing much more than par-for-the-course psych-rock.

If any song were to polarize listeners it’s likely to be “Siberian Breaks,” a multi-part ballad that sweeps up pseudo-flower power, a curious spoken word transition, and spacey keys into a convenient 12 minute package. Its kaleidoscope effect does little to offer a contrast to the rest of the record but it could very well be the straw that breaks the MGMT fan’s back; the 12 minute, oddly erratic straw. Rounding out the record is the garage rock-revival sounding “Brian Eno,” “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”—which could have more suitably accompanied the terribly uncomfortable “Kids” video—and the slow freak-folk of Congratulations‘ title track.

While I strongly doubt that the “sorry” was as much of an “I’m sorry” as it was an “I’m sorry it doesn’t work for you”, there is little to dispute in terms of the vast differences between the band’s past material and Congratulations. Still, the record is hardly as unlistenable a some have made it out to seem; the album retains a continuous flow and offers a variety of different sounds within the larger umbrella of modern psychedelic rock. Tracks such as “Congratulations,” the epic “Siberian Breaks,” and even “Flash Delirium” enforce a feeling of freshness throughout the record that keeps it from feeling stagnant.

Walt Disney once suggested that it’s best to “Always leave them wanting more,” and with Oracular Spectacular MGMT did just that. And while it’s still a good album, Congratulations isn’t nearly as enjoyable as its predecessor. Then again, it’s an album that has seemingly been created for the right reasons. To quote one of the tracks that fans are likely to immediately compare the new album to, “Time To Pretend,” “This is our decision, to live fast and die young. We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun.” And at the end of the day, who’s to argue with that?

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]