Review: MGMT – Congratulations

“I’d rather dissolve and have you ignore me…” – “Congratulations” MGMT Congratulations, 2010

At best, MGMT is a band that harnesses the effervescent spirit of psychedelic pop and infuses it with a bombast of inherently dance-friendly synthesizers and drum breaks. At worst, MGMT is a band that wallows in self-pity over their perceived inability as artists and producers to never be able to ascend to the heights of Phil Spector, Lennon and McCartney and Brian Wilson. Somewhere in that void lies MGMT’s meandering sophomore release Congratulations.

2007’s Oracular Spectacular is the type of album that will never be duplicated. The earnest expression of tracks like “Kids,” “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel” have pretty much become sonic guideposts for a significant section of popular music. Andrew Vanwygarten and Ben Goldwasser are now forever fated to attempting to match the quality and style of expression found in their debut, and clearly have decided to be frightened by their success, assert their independence and move in a separate direction. Yes, lead single “Flash Delirium” sounds like it’s cut from the same cloth, but listen to the rest of the album, and you’ll see that MGMT is now making stripes and the old sound is plaid. On their official website, the band even mentions being willing to give away the album for free, as even they’re intensely aware that this record is an antagonizing listen for those massively in favor of the first release.

Know from hearing the drum pickup from the Phil Spector produced Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” in the apropos titled first track “It’s Working” what you’re signing up for here. Bake a pizza in the amount of time it takes to appreciate the Rubber Soul era Beatles qualities of the twelve minute long “Siberian Breaks.” Enjoy the Pink Floyd stylings of the intentionally weird and mysterious “Lady Dada’s Nightmare,” and listen very intently to the lyrics of “Congratulations.” MGMT’s a band that at its deepest core slavishly worships at the altar of the year 1965, the year that both the Beatles and Beach Boys, superior pop acts with note-perfect timing, initially went psychedelic, freaked out the world and expanded the concept of what pop music could become. Where Congratulations fails is that  it’s not 1965 and bands tremendously more famous and in many cases hundreds of times better have recorded better albums. From a production and orchestration standpoint, it’s excellent. owever, there are no other bands recording music at the level of stardom of MGMT for them to compete with at making pop music intensely thoughtful and cosmic. Nobody cares about a one horse race. There’s no drama, and nobody really wins. The album is an in depth exploration of the creative thrusts of MGMT. Are those qualities that become a second album for a million album selling band? Certainly not.

In final, MGMT is trapped in a very public struggle with the concept of their own fame. The ideals that made MGMT seem to be breaking them, as they appear to be the quintessential indie kids who never believed in a million years that the universe would find what they had to say remotely entertaining. Well, they did, and now are dealing with it in the most public of forums. These growing pains are the saddest and most depressing to watch, and in this case, listen to.