New MGMT Album Review

Reverend Pete here taking the time to post my latest Daily Collegian article in full. This one is on MGMT’s newly leaked second album “Congratulations.” I was inspired to write this after a heated debate with Leigh Greaney, The First Lady of Funk. She is wrong. Album good. Album very good. So read review. Ugh…

MGMT has arguably achieved the most success of any rock band to burst onto the scene in the last few years. In a short time the band has gone from collegiate act to headlining some of the biggest festivals in the world, with everyone from fashion gurus to Bill Murray attending their shows. The 40 minute keyboard orgy that was their debut “Oracular Spectacular” united the tattered strains of rock n’ roll from hipster kids to hippies, and succeeded just as easily in winning over the pop music realm – while its lead single “Time to Pretend” became the closest thing this generation has to an anthem: “Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.” It was sarcastic and uplifting at the same time; at once petty and profound, and its creators found themselves grappling with questions about what it means to be rock stars in the 21st century, where bands get chewed up and spit out like breath mints.

Well it just so happens that MGMT may have found the blueprint for success, and it comes as a relief for everyone who had their fingers crossed for them not to eat the dirt like so many other one album wonders.

When MGMT’s latest album leaked this week, the blogosphere and social networks blew up and fans eager to scoop up their latest work received this modest message the band posted on their Web site adjacent to the trippy album art, “Hey everybody, the album leaked, and we wanted you to be able to hear it from us.” So despite the fact that the official release of the album isn’t until April 13, the entirety of the album is already available to the public.

While “Oracular Spectacular” was a breath of fresh air, it coasted on big singles and remained a largely uneven affair. In contrast, “Congratulations” is a more evenhanded artistic stroke. The album sounds like MGMT, however it’s MGMT expanded, at once showcasing the band moving deeper into its influences while choosing them more assuredly. It’s a deftly manufactured creative endeavor that succeeds to both cement their established sound and bring it to new extremes.

“Congratulations” is not a safe album, and it’s not the one that a lot of people would have liked them to make. For starters there are no singles on this disc. For anyone looking for a rehash of “Kids” or “Electric Feel” this disc should have come with a sticker that said “see our first album.” Right from the R&B bass-line that kicks off opener “It’s Working,” this album finds its own groove and quickly takes off running in it’s own direction.

Songs like the first leak “Flash Delirium” and “Song for Dan Treacy” sound like superhero theme songs, dragged through disco, dashed with Motown and blasted through the speaker system at a rave party. Yet they are able to accomplish all of this without sacrificing any of the tongue-in-cheek qualities that made their debut an overnight success. Their humor shines through the best on oddball jam “Brian Eno” named after the famous producer and solo artist who has worked with everyone from The Talking Heads to U2 that propels a building chant of “what does he know? / Brian Eno!” This quirky tribute rides an infectious groove that despite its playfulness comes surprisingly close to achieving something substantive.

On the flip side, “I’ve Found a Whistle” with its gentle chords and plodding drums, manages to get the most melancholy from earnest lyrics like “I’ve found a whistle / that works every time.” Even though lead singer Andrew Van Wyngarden name-checks tricksters, thieves, axes and other medieval imagery, the song sounds like it’s made of real pain and desperation. Their signature keyboards don’t even enter the fray prominently until the extended “Siberian Breaks,” a song that feels at first like a Frankenstein of lesser songs but ultimately ends up sounding like a structured work.

Even the weirder moments sound like pop music with “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” and “Someone’s Missing,” despite their brevity – and in the case of the former song, a lyric-less mash-up of melodies and screaming actually make for catchy pieces of music. This all leads up to the album’s standout moment and closing swansong, “Congratulations.”

On this ballad we finally see MGMT stop running from themselves, greeting the subject of fame head on with lyrics that read, “I’ve got someone to make reports, that tell me how my money’s spent, to book my stays and draw my blinds, so I can’t tell what’s really there.” This is a line that, like the best of MGMT’s songs, fails to fall into easy characterization, simultaneously embracing the best and worst of fame itself; a sentiment that makes the scant clapping at the track’s end sound at once sad and funny. But after the album fades, one thing is clear: the band deserves a round of applause.

Peter Rizzo can be reached at prizzo@student.umass.edu.

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