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Monday, 26 April 2010

Album Review: MGMT - Congratulations (April 13, 2010)

Congratulations (April 13, 2010)
Columbia Records

The unmeasurable success of Oracular Spectacular was undoubtedly due at least in part to the strength of its singles - I remember on listening through my album purchase almost three years ago being slightly underwhelmed by an album I thought would be full to the brim with generation-defining songs in the heroin-infused vein of 'Time To Pretend'. However the musical duo were rightly worshipped on the success of that haunting song, from a  band who emerged from the musical wilderness straight to the top of so many festival bills, radio playlists and world album charts. "Kids" followed it up, and pretty quickly they were being remixed by the likes of Justice and Soulwax to create songs which would remain as acceptable indie-dancefloor tracks until the summer of 2009 and beyond. MGMT's brilliance in 2007/8 however, in no way guarded against the kind of second album backlash that so many bloggers have already begun to launch against the duo.

For the oddness of MGMT's second album, aptly titled 'Congratulations', can be interpreted in two ways. Measuring the album on a scale of 'one-to-Oracular Spectacular' is the route that many bloggers seem to have taken. For example, Hannah Simon's review for Indie Shuffle has no time for the new LP, she calls them "immature musicians" before going on to claim that the new material "may as well me mindless noise". It is true that Congratulations and Oracular Spectacular are very different albums - but "mindless noise" is just totally speculative.

The second way this album can be interpreted is as an album in itself - aside from the media frenzy, press hype and mainstream expectation which the two musicians could never have forseen. Comparing Congratulations to its predecessor is like comparing siblings. The instruments, sounds and key parts of the music are shared - but the influences are wildly different. MGMT, this time round, have taken a hypothetical acid trip to the 70s. David Bowie is the first musician to spring to mind - and elements of T-Rex style glam rock ring loud and clear throughout. Take 'Congratulations', a song beginning with an idle blues bassline, joined quickly by an ambling, glitchy keyboard. This song is as 70s as they come, mixed up with all those MGMT sounds which we know so well from the last instalment. There's background acoustics which album opener "Someone's Missing" also exhibits - which also appear on 12 minute epic 'Siberian Breaks', the song perhaps most likely to captivate the listener to the extent of some of the last album's better sections. Other than the modern instrumentation this duo engage with, I find it difficult to find many influences within this century that I can confidently say form a part of the new album's creation.

Almost every essence of modernity and sanity has been removed aside from equipment, and even the most recent of influences - Mercury Rev, still falls within 20th century boundaries. The spaced-out vocals and jangling guitars so typical of Spacemen 3 and the former are an occurence which makes all the more logical sense when producer Peter Kember and his Jason Pierce associations are taken into account. This space-rock, Bowie inspired psychedelia doesn't stop at the music either. Take a look at the full set of lyrics for Siberian Breaks, weighing in at over ten minutes in length and finishing with the reflective observations that "forces you see breathe can always go into hiding// and wait 'till it passes over// or stay far gone for all eternity". As a recent interview revealed, MGMT are uncomfortable with the earthly situation they find themselves in - and Congratulation's lyrics certainly suggest a far-gone attempt at escape from the world where they're shooting heroin in Paris, living fast, and dying young.

The apology about the new album the band gave following the mainstream backlash against Flash Delirium seems like an odd move to me. Why should a band apologise for making a stand against the mainstream success of their debut? Congratulations is pure creativity with far more depth than the single orientated debut. It is by no means an amazing album - but I already find it infinitely more interesting as a unit that I ever found Oracular Spectacular.

MGMT - Flash Delirium (MP3) (thanks to Stay Loose)


  1. Great review - I'm really enjoying Congratulations so far. The band looked great on SNL last week, too.

  2. MGMT did the best thing they could have ever done with this album by going left field. Brilliant. This performance speaks for itself


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