Review Summary: A decidedly run-of-the-mill rock record.
It became pretty obvious over the past couple of years that MGMT loathed the massive amounts of success their debut Oracular Spectacular
, particularly its singles, had lavished on the band. Grammy nominations, endless radio play, numerous “artist-to-watch” lists; MGMT was everywhere and anywhere due largely to their ability to make quirky, sarcastic indie pop with a psychedelic sheen and produce some damn catchy singles along the way. The backlash that has already come with their sophomore effort, then, should surprise no one. Congratulations
is almost bullheaded in its resolve to be something Oracular Spectacular
was not – namely, lacking any kind of easily identifiable hit single. In doing so MGMT has no doubt followed whatever artistic vision they had for themselves, but their stubborn refusal to make anything that stands out makes Congratulations
a decidedly run-of-the-mill rock record.
“Staying true to yourself” has always been an overrated concept in the realm of indie music, not to mention a vague one. After all, how were songs like “Kids” and “Electric Feel” not a part of MGMT’s goals when they first wrote them, and how could the band be upset that they were reaching so many people who otherwise would never have given a *** about them? Congratulations
seems more like a response to the fame and popularity Oracular Spectacular
brought them than anything in the band DNA itself, and it’s this kind of knee-jerk reaction that makes the album immediately forgettable. Opener “It’s Working” sets the tone for the majority of the record, neon-colored guitar and bubbly rhythm work complementing Andrew VanWyngarden’s trippy vocals and an appropriately poppy melody. There’s hints of surf rock, hazy electronica, and bits of noise rock throughout, but for the most part Congratulations
stays firmly in this psychedelic pop gear that dominated much of Oracular Spectacular’s
second half. That’s not to say the songs are bad or unoriginal; “Someone’s Missing” sideshow carnival vibe is awesome in a creepy sort of way, and “I Found A Whistle’s” druggy vibe is hard to resist. But it seems that too much of Congratulations
is mired in the same psychedelic morass, shooting itself in the foot with bad namedrops (“Brian Eno”) or worse instrumental meandering (“Lady Dada’s Nightmare”) more often than it distinguishes itself.
It’s frustrating that the best song on here is diminished by the band’s overt attempt to sabotage it. That would be the twelve-minute long “Siberian Breaks,” a genre-bender that flits from folk to classic rock to psychedelic opera with ease but with a length that serves absolutely no purpose except to (presumably) intimidate its listeners. There’s little to no thematic link between the separate parts that make up the whole, making for a disjointed if enjoyable titan of a song that nevertheless leaves one wondering why they just didn’t break it up into more manageable pieces. It’s Congratulations’
biggest shame that the most diverse group of recordings on the record only takes up one track in the listing, leaving room for plenty more by-the-numbers psych-rock that pale in comparison.
Perhaps the most telling moment of my listen was when the title track faded away and iTunes proceeded into “Time to Pretend.” I was immediately absorbed, much more so by than anything that came before, and there lies the overwhelming problem with Congratulations
. No one wants MGMT to keep re-making Oracular Spectacular
or a hit single like “Time to Pretend,” but with Congratulations
they essentially did the former but forgot to include the latter. Oracular Spectacular
was never an amazing album, and without those timeless singles, it’s nothing much at all. MGMT have (purposely?) lost that instant magic that they effortlessly whipped up with those debut singles, and in trying to re-establish themselves as artists that don’t need the commercial mainstream to survive, they’ve created a record that lacks any defining characteristics to call its own.