Review Summary: As a listening experience “Congratulations” is fun, occasionally ridiculous, often memorable, but most importantly identifies MGMT as long term players who are unafraid to stretch themselves beyond the confines of the three minute single.
When recently asked about the content of MGMT’s new long player, Andrew Van Wyngarden brazenly stated “We’ve roped them in. Now we want to freak them out”. Along with song writing partner Ben Goldwasser, Van Wyngarden, fearful of being labelled Electro pop, have purged the radio friendly sensibility that laced much of their successful debut “Oracular Spectacular” with a follow up that immerses the listener into a melee of 80s Brit-psych and off kilter 60s acid pop. The album will undoubtedly be rejected by fans who bought into the band via “Electric Feel” and “Time To Pretend”; something that bears little consternation for the twosome who defiantly address the issue by insisting that “we don’t necessarily subscribe to the view that we owe it to the fans to give them exactly what they want”. As if to substantiate the change in direction the pair frequently cite left field influencers including Psychic TV’s Genesis P. Orridge, post Teardrop Explodes Julian Cope (complete with turtle shell), The Monochrome Set’s Lester Square and Television Personalities Dan Treacy. Supervisory producer Pete Kember from Spacemen 3 feeds the wide ranging ambition with vintage synths, oddball records from his collection and possibly just a small amount of chemical enhancement. As a listening experience “Congratulations” is fun, occasionally ridiculous, often memorable, but most importantly identifies MGMT as long term players who are unafraid to stretch themselves beyond the confines of the three minute single.
Much of one’s appreciation for “Congratulations” depends on the twelve minute epic that splits the album in half, the epic “Siberian Breaks”. Drifting in as a gentle guitar ballad, the addition of Jennifer Herrema’s backing vocals to the first chorus adds a west coast Mama’s & The Papa’s feel. The song then trips into a spoken word Syd Barrett styled psych oddity that concludes in a beautifully sweet synth instrumental and then returns full circle to its intro with added swirling keyboard effects. It’s a monumental achievement, a song that’s a brimful of innovation; progressive mystery that retains an underlying pop character that’s hard to resist.
The cocky exuberance of MGMT comes to the fore on the two songs that directly infer their influencers for “Congratulations”. Imagine how The Libertines would have sounded in 1967 with a Wurlitzer and acid instead of smack, and you’ve got the essence of “Song For Dan Treacy”. “Brian Eno” bears little resemblance to his music, but contains enough snappy 80s retro English indie/pop, comical lyrics that plays on Eno/”e knows”, and the mystic guru worship is succinctly wrapped in the line “he taught me many things, the wisdom of oblique stratagems”. The closest to an obvious hit is the explosive “Flash Delirium”, which encapsulates the atmosphere of unhinged psycho-babble that warms up from party song to hysterical rant in the space of four minutes. The catchy falsetto hook of “Someone’s Missing” is a response to the bizarre view that the touring band had a ghostly sixth member. “It’s Working” genuinely feels like it was recorded two or three generations ago, and again benefits from a captivating multi tracked harmony vocal chorus that feels as fresh as a west coast breeze.
There are miss-steps in the over confident, calculated instrumental “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”, which attempts to set dark atmospherics to a psychedelic waltz, but fails to retain a lasting tune. “I Found A Whistle” is a sluggish, lightweight ballad that never moves up a gear, floundered on the Malibu sands to wash away with the tide.
As a response to the worldwide acclaim for “Oracular Spectacular”, MGMT have created a follow up that rejects, then regenerates and refines the style of music that Van Wyngarden and Goldwasser always intended. As a commercial proposition “Congratulations” maybe suicidal; but there’s a brave integrity and charm that one can’t fail to recognise, and for that reason greatly appreciate.