MGMT - Congratulations
Review by Jack Foley
HAVING wowed just about everyone with their debut album, Oracular Spectacular and its now seminal single Time To Pretend, Brooklyn duo MGMT now deliver sophomore LP Congratulations and immediately wrongfoot listeners.
Eschewing the distinctive electro-pop sound that made Oracular such a great listen, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew Van Wyngarden have opted for a psychedelic sound driven by the influence ex-Spacemen 3 producer Peter Kember.
The result sounds like a completely different album from a completely different group… and nowhere near as great as the album that preceded it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some gems and suggestions that MGMT haven’t completely forgotten their roots.
But the end result places them at something of a crossroads between idiosyncratic experimentalism and daring populism. The former album contained plenty of the latter, Congratulations more of the former. As such, the celebrations among fans may well be muted.
Admittedly, things begin brightly even though you can tell straight away that MGMT have abandoned the electronics.
It’s Working is a fun, trippy concoction of psychedelic vocals, ’70s influences, bongo percussion and hip-shaking drum loops. It’s fun and every bit as capable of appealing to the mainstream as Time To Pretend.
But there’s a dirty, almost Stranglers-esque sound surrounding the organs of Song For Dan Treacy that sounds the first note of caution… while Someone’s Missing opens in sparse, wailed fashion that seems to be drifting nowhere, until suddenly sparking to life with a Jackson Five-style outro at around the one minute, 45 second mark.
Ironically, you want more of the latter approach to the song, rather than the experimental opening stuff.
Elsewhere, Flash Delirium blends trippy organs, flute solos and a vaguely Cars-sounding vibe to provide an unsatisfying comedown, while Lady Dada’s Nightmare is just plain bonkers and as willfully far from the mainstream as you can imagine.
Such moments really do test the patience, and seem designed to test which fans will be joining them for the duration, and which are just interested in hanging out for the radio-friendly stuff – not that they’re intending to release any tracks from this album as singles, preferring instead to encourage the listener to hear the LP as a whole.
Thank heavens, then, for tracks like I Found A Whistle, which drops kooky melodies, folksy guitars and more flutes to generally engaging effect, and album showpiece Siberian Breaks, which takes the listener on a 12-minute journey through numerous influences; most of them amazing.
Album closer and title track Congratulations even ends things on a fine note, with classic American folk-rock values mixing with the psychedelia that has marked all that’s come before. It’s a comedown offering that really does put you in a relaxed state of mind.
As sophomore sessions go, this gets top marks for daring to be different and subverting expectation, but only half marks for execution. MGMT remain a fascinating oddity… but the emphasis is increasingly on odd, which is OK in small doses.
Download picks: It’s Working, I Found A Whistle, Siberian Breaks, Congratulations