Review Summary: Congratulations shows MGMT refusing to become stagnant after just two albums.
Let’s face it – there is a great big world outside of Sputnik, and the vast majority of that world knows three songs by MGMT. “Time to Pretend”, Electric Feel”, and “Kids” took over popular radio stations for the last two years – and rightfully so. The songs were bizarre and ridiculously catchy; an identity that has stuck with the band very early on in their musical career. Enter 2010, where MGMT presents their second effort Congratulations
. If the title wasn’t enough to make you wary, the album’s cover art featuring a purple and orange cat surfing had to at least make you suspect that a sophomore slump was brewing. Then came the streaming of “Flash Delirium” which, while vastly intriguing, wasn’t nearly as catchy as any of the three aforementioned songs from Oracular Spectacular
. It all seemed to add up. MGMT was headed for a letdown, right?
Well, this time a bleak outlook actually took a turn for the best as MGMT released an album every bit as good as Oracular Spectacular
– only different. Those who listen to MGMT for monstrously catchy singles will undoubtedly be disappointed, but Congratulations
uses its uniqueness to pick up the slack created by what seems to be an absence of one album-defining song. What we have here is a collection of tracks that each contribute something to the album, but do not necessarily hold up on their own. This does not become evident after one listen, but Congratulations
is definitely a grower whose songs reveal their importance more and more with each successive listen. This is no coincidence, as the band released a statement prior to the album’s streaming saying, “We've been talking about ways to make sure people hear the album as an album in order…and not just figure out what are the best three tracks, download those and not listen to the rest of it." Obviously, the band must have been frustrated with their identity boiling down to a couple of catchy mainstream hits. Congratulations
shows a focused energy on creating a true “album”, which means that it won’t appeal to all listeners.
follows in the 60’s style psych-pop footsteps of “Oracular Spectacular”, but manages to differentiate itself on several different fronts. Perhaps the most notable is MGMT’s first instrumental track, “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”. Each instrument is carefully introduced, starting off with a synthesized organ and then adding some light piano notes, restrained electric guitar, and eventually thunderous drum beats and a howling wind that seems to beckon the listener like a wailing siren. MGMT have created songs that garnered a great number of adjectives, but “breathtaking” was never one of them until now. “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” leads right into the album’s title track and closing song, “Congratulations”. This song is also a highlight; with Pink Floyd-like vocals that work surprisingly well with MGMT’s take on psychedelic rock. “Flash Delirium” is another track that refuses to be ignored. As I mentioned before, this song is not as catchy as “Time to Pretend” or “Kids”, but it works a lot better within the context of the album. From the eerie, almost middle-eastern sounding introduction to the broken woodwind notes, “Flash Delirium” sounds like nothing MGMT has ever written before. This once again serves to distinguish Congratulations
from Oracular Spectacular
, a goal that seems to go hand in hand with the band’s wish to create a unified album.
is not without its drawbacks, however. For starters, the album contains only 9 songs. When you consider that one of those songs is an instrumental track, fans of the mainstream MGMT will be mightily disappointed. Also, some of the songs – such as “I Found a Whistle” and “Someone’s Missing” - just fall flat. For a band whose foundation relies on them being fun and carefree, they can’t afford to have many boring tracks on such a short record. Unfortunately, this is the case with songs like these which, while polished and well-produced, have no real substance.
As a whole, Congratulations
shows MGMT refusing to become stagnant after just two albums. They shake things up, and in a way most people would not anticipate. Instead of moving even more in the mainstream direction, they actually make it a point to do the opposite. Their motives behind this change in direction are certainly respectable, as they wish for people to hear their albums as an experience rather than just a collection of singles. MGMT actually wanted to give the album away for free, but stated “That didn’t make sense to anyone but us." However, their intentions may earn them more respect from their fans. In the overall, the album is a bold move by a band seeking to be taken more seriously as artists. They succeed, and the result is a somewhat unexpected triumph by a band that is starting to really show what they are capable of.