Review Summary: A curious, yet good release that will disappoint some and surprise everyone.
MGMT’s first album “Oracular Spectacular” is on a short list of amazing albums of near-perfection for me. Upon saying that, “Congratulations”, their follow-up, is an album that stands on its own in the MGMT catalogue (you can call it a catalogue after 2 albums…right?) and will disappoint some, and surprise everyone.
It’s clear this is a different album from a band who is now in a different part of their career. This I expect, as I never expect an album to sound just like their previous work. Congratulations is an evolution and extension of the sound in their first, but is vastly less pop-structured, or with big sweeping catchy choruses. This basically guarantee’s them nearly no radio play as most of the songs on this album will never be played on mainstream radio, while the ones that could still won’t feed the public with another “Kids” or “Electric Feel”. Then again, radio is beginning to be pretty irrelevant so perhaps they have more figured out then we think.
The first thing I felt about the music is that it was sporadic, child-like, surf-y, more organic, and… just more out there. The lack of catchy synth-lines initially renders the album harder to get into, but what I’ve found upon repeated listens is it really is filled with absolutely fun catchy lines…you just gotta look for them harder. Take for example “Flash Delirium” the single-ish song on the album (it has its own video, so I guess that deems it more accessible?) is just all over the place. It goes through about 5 or 6 parts of seemingly grab-bag material. On closer inspection, however, the structure begins to stare you right in the face and say “We’re all here, why didn’t you see us before?”. It’s got its doo-wop chorus, a verse that takes on multiple forms that grow with each repeat in zaniness, and a bridge that sounds in place in a post-drugs Beatles album. When the song kicks into its final third, you may at first be thrown off by all the curveballs but I urge you to try to resist its charm the 3rd or 4th time through.
The strengths continue through the acid-surf-rock opener “It’s Working”, the sincere bubbling brief ballad “Someone’s Missing”, and the classic 60’s psychedelia-pop of closer “Congratulations”. Where the album suffers is the considerably less unique sounding “Brian Eno” and the looming, interesting, but not quite stellar instrumental “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”.
Of course, the song I looked forward to the most was “Siberian Breaks”. This 12min epic couldn’t possibly be a let-down, could it? Well it is and it isn’t. This song can easily summarize the strengths and weaknesses of this album as a whole. It can feel a bit like multiple songs stuck together with little focus on making it flow smoothly. About every 2-3min you will be thrust with moments of tempo-changes, and totally different styles ranging from spoken-word to sweeping bloop-edy blipping electronics swarming through an ocean of synths and effected drum hits. It can feel like there is just too much trying to be done for one song, even though it is a 12min song. After a couple listens, however, it is easier to accept its over-achieving attitude and just enjoy what’s actually there.
Perhaps that was their intentions all along with this album. Just enjoy whats there. It doesn’t need to go to the places you thought it might have. The albums sporadic energy makes it feel less like a concise body of work as much as a range of music representing more of a stream-of-consciousness attitude the band is clearly playing more with. For that, I’m fulfilled. While it took some acceptance that there seems to be a lack of really just jamming out on a feeling and holding it, I can’t say I’m disappointed. I can’t wait to hear what’s next, and that’s always a sign of a band doing it’s job.