ALBUM REVIEW: MGMT “Congratulations”

Label: Sony
Release Date: 13.04.10

“The difficult second album”; it’s a tired old cliché that is throws itself at any band like a desperate old groupie – lipstick smudged and underwear inside out. It’s difficult even to claim the breath baiting and media tension is an honour anymore. For some bands though their debut is so well received that it creates tectonic scale pressure, which many have buckled under (The Stone Roses’ “Second Coming” is one such calamity). MGMT ran just such a risk by producing an album so rich in catchy hooks and disco friendly beats that whatever their second album was like, it would be branded with the dreaded twin slurs of “difficult” and “second”. It’s unlikely to calm them much, but it could be said that in their case it may be their fourth single and not the album that followed that will define their career from this point on. Their first outing, 2007’s chart friendly psychadelic-synth-funk “Oracular Spectacular” spawned the ubiquitous third single and total ear worm ‘Kids’, heard in every Indie Disco and as every hipster’s ringtone. The other singles from the record, ‘Time to Pretend’ and ‘Electric Feel’, were none too shabby either. Their debut’s singles were so solid in fact that fans understandably awaited MGMT’s Second Coming, “Congratulations”, with bated breath and expectations of another happy synth-pop floor filler.

That’s probably why, in a very strange move the first single ‘Flash Delirium’ was released in March with a sheepish apology from Ben Goldwasser, one half of the band. I can see why Goldwasser might feel awkward; ‘Flash Delirium’ is a window into the album that followed earlier this month (released early due to online leaks) and for some it’s an unsettling view. At first glance, one thing is immediately clear about the single; there are no ringtone friendly loops or catchy choruses; this is not a single for people in vintage t-shirts at the local Stone Love night. Instead we have a soft, simple build up, a slightly Beatles-esque psychedelic middle (including, bizarrely, a recorder solo), and an almost jarring garage-rock climax. To say that this genre confusion has caused discussion among fans is an understatement, and since the release of the album, the debate has continued. So what of the album?

Well, it’s certainly a good, solid album and I think one that warrants no apology. It would be too easy to call this their alienating ‘Kid A’, and despite the chaotic themes, to me the album still remains linear and focussed; if the focal point in question is “being a little nuts”.

The songs dance along like the demented love child of a Casio synthesiser and a psychedelic-era Beatles cover band (on ecstasy). It took me a few goes, but once I’d relaxed into the ride, it was an entertaining and bewildering trip, through various different genres. ‘Siberian Breaks’, for example, is a 12 minute epic melting pot with overdubbed singing, acoustic guitars, flowing synths and a time signature that’s changed more often than Tiger Woods’ bed sheets (several month old cultural reference anyone?). All this produces a mini, almost prog-rock style electro-opera that manages to be strange and compelling from its gentle acoustic intro (reminiscent of the Kings of Convenience), through to its kaleidoscopic Pink Floyd style spoken word centre and finally into a dripping synth heavy climax. Elsewhere on the album the theme of surreal psychedelia is continued; choirs, reverb and synth-sitars(!) jostle together, creating a strange soundscape with few obvious choruses. A few standout tracks (‘Brian Eno’, with its spooky Hammond organ and album opener ‘It’s Working’s new-wave bass intro are the obvious contenders) tie the album together and keep the entertainment bubbling along.

The most courageous and impressive thing about the album though is that it is all tied up so well, yet it’s hard to see the strings. Whichever way you look at it, the album is greater than the sum of its parts and that is brave thing to produce in this, the iPod age. Albums now days are chopped up, downloaded as single tracks and shuffled together, yet MGMT have dared to produce an album with no standout hit singles that can only really be appreciated when observed in its entirety and in order. Whether their more mainstream fan base do indeed deserve an apology and whether they decide to jump ship en masse is only for them to decide, but MGMT have produced something honest, multi-faceted and above all, entertaining and no one should be sorry about that.

Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Benji Pearce

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