Review Summary: Record Sales....We Don't Need No Stinking Record Sales
It often seems as though MGMT gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield. Despite releasing a promising debut and selling a considerable amount of records it usually appears as though they are one of the most reviled groups currently operating. Their debut had two above average singles and some interesting deeper tracks like the discofied Electric Feels, the Johnny Thunders-esque Pieces of What, and the record label wary Handshake which was the song that sounded the most like the man who produced its prior work. Perhaps success does breed contempt because no sooner did the two aforementioned singles become moderate successes then people immediately began the onslaught of derision that has continued to this day. While MGMT were lambasted the much more cloying and one dimensional debut from Vampire Weekend was lavished with infinite press and praise. Instead of folding their tents they created a wildly unmarketable sophmore album that, much like the aforementioned Vampire Weekend, greatly improves on their debut.
While Oracular Spectacular most often sounded similar to nineties Flaming Lips and newer Of Montreal they have reached further back for their second album drawing predominantly from psych rock from the sixties and seventies like 13th Floor Elevators, Jefferson Airplane, the Zombies, and the man who produced its substantial work with Spacemen 3. Lead off track It's Working has some of the most obvious drug references this side of Cypress Hill's "I Want To Get High" and its musical backdrop recalls the Stranglers with an omnichord line reminiscent of "Golden Brown". The next track is a reverential nod to their past tour mate Dan Treacy of the amazing Television Personalities. Its nice to see a man who squandered his ample songwriting gifts with rampant drug addiction and bids on prison ships get some much deserved attention for something other than his bad decisions. Instead of hiding behind their influences they outright namecheck them, which will hopefully lead to some younger ears discovering some classic music. Someone's Missing briefly hints at the pop pleasures of their debut in its second half before pulling the rug out from under the listener and ending abruptly. Quasi single Flash Delirium jumps from doo wop to Beach Boys inspired pop to punk rock in its outro all over the course of four and a half minutes. Sure their might be too much going on but that is part of the songs charm. I Found A Whistle, besides conjuring memories of Mario 3 with its title, is slower paced and its synth line builds as it progresses sounding somewhat like a woman singing opera oddly enough as it intensifies. After this first half the album heads into its much more eclectic second half where the more experimental pieces are housed.
After its first five tracks Congratulations immediately segues into its longest song, Siberian Breaks. The albums centrepiece is a twelve minute long workout that draws from the Zombies and Jefferson Airplane musically in parts and perhaps winks at Leonard Cohen with its lyrical reference to a Marianne. Its epic length is sure to turn off many listeners who aren't into songs that are structured like suites. Brian Eno may be the worst song on the album but at the very least it might shine some light on the ambient innovater with which it shares its name. Lady DaDa's Nightmare is also an undercooked effort that comes off like a meek attempt at replicating the sound of the *** Buttons debut album. However after the back to back low points the album ends on a high note with the title track which is probably the best of the bunch. Despite its slow tempo its probably the only track with an outside shot at repeating the success at radio their prior release enjoyed. The lyrics play out like a flip side to Time To Pretend where the fame has become a reality and all they're left with is a hollow feeling as well as the disconnect from reality celebrity often represents with its yes men and hangers on. Even its delivery has an exhausted feel which perfectly complements its subject matter and if the bassline from The Band's "The Weight" was infused into the track as a nod to its titles relevance to Congratulations lyrical topic than bravo, very well played boys.
Whether you dig this album or not they have definitely displayed some serious sack by ignoring the public's demands for them and using their inflated commercial stock and the increased funds that accompany it to make the album that they obviously always wanted to make. In this respect they should at least be commended for laying it on the line and taking a chance on a wildly unconventional sophmore release. However this very fact will undoubtedly elicit an unfavourable response from the majority of people who purchased their debut although this seems to be exactly what the duo had in mind. The album plays like a love letter to the excesses of the psych rock they are currently so enamoured with and if it was released forty years ago it might have been a hit but since it comes today it is destined to be largely misunderstood. Its a throwback to the days before rock n roll was just a commodity used to push single tracks for Itunes and therefore is best heard as a whole rather than sampled. This band appears to have the potential for something bigger than what they have shown thus far and Congratulaitions is a step in the right direction.
I Found A Whistle
Song For Dan Treacy