When I think of my favorite albums, most of them were on some level, a departure from a norm. And many were severe disappointments for the average fan. Hence my attraction to MGMT's latest screwball effort, Congratulations
. I would never compare it to any of the greats in terms of quality, because that would be patently unfair. Instead, I think the collection of songs has to prove something to me on its own. MGMT has made a record that makes no efforts to conceal its interests with marketable fluff. That right there should earn a level of respect from the critical eye... but it doesn't. In today's age of shock value and publicity stunts, the first hoop should always be sincerity. Did these two goofbags from Weslyan make an album of splintered, neo-sixties trip-pop with severe schizophrenia to freak everyone out, or because they this is the music they want to make? This is the central question of Congratulations
: is MGMT willing to drink their own kool-aid?
As many have pointed out, "Kids" and "Time To Pretend" were written before the big money came in for the duo. When given the reigns, and the advances, the more liberal tracks of Oracular Spectacular
were created, and subsequently failed to display the same "hit" promise. Still, the pair went from chump change to opening for Radiohead quicker than you can say "Black Kids suck". Fast forward to the release of "Flash Delirium", and everyone was leaking brains out of their ears by the end of the day. Headlines like "MGMT apologizes for shitty single" flooded the inflammatory blog rolls. Note: blogs weren't the only things rolling. The four minute exploration got single status because it is easily the most accessible song on the record from a traditional "single" perspective (minus "Song For Dan Treacy", but we'll get there). Not to mention the tracks space-aged lyrics, analog tape-hiss harmonies, and weird instrumentals (near atonal flute solo?) are the perfect to-scale model of the whole record. It's weird, molecular, and at times, really really tweaked out. But the bottom line is enjoyable and interesting.
"It's Working" is a soft open, easing the listener into the aesthetic of Congratulations
with some more traditional MGMT sounds. But once that harpsichord chimes in, and the harmonies trade reverb for those old-timey psychedelics, all bets are off. Then "Song For Dan Treacy", an upbeat blow-out of the new sound, finishes off the polarization by the time the organ riff sets in. You are either shaking or nodding at this point. Personally, I was enamored at this point; the weirdo-fuzz swirls and is kind of infectiously catchy if you let your guard down. The songs chug along and are, for the most part, well-constructed and fun, if a little bloated and bombastic in length and breadth of motifs.
The obvious offender is "Siberian Breaks", an unjustifiably long, twelve minute opus towards the end of the record. The fact that "Siberian Breaks" is one song and not several is the reason I'm worried that MGMT is just looking for brownie points for just being "revolutionary" (read: weirdos). The redemption of honoring their influences ("Treacy" being for the leader of the cult group Television Personalities, and "Brian Eno" being for its titular focus, both stellar tracks IMO), doesn't totally make up for the gratuitous excess of "Breaks", a collection of seemingly unrelated musical motifs, save for the key changes. Yeah there are relationships at play, but it takes some serious commitment (such as the amount of listening necessary for criticism) to dissect them. And even then, you need a Ritalin cocktail to get through the whole thing.
But in the end, I'm the one drinking the kool-aid. The sincerity is there, and Congratualtions
earns its heavy rotation. "Everything I say is true/cause if I was telling lies it'd probably show" is a line from somewhere in the record (it jumps at me), and recently MGMT told The UK Guardian "I don't know if our new album is necessarily good or not, but I know that it's very honest, and I think that's really important." I'm inclined to agree. -joe puglisi
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MP3:"Flash Delirium" - Congratulations
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