Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Review: MGMT - Congratulations
Let's get this out of the way first. Depending on how much Sega Genesis you played in the 90's, you will find the album cover for Congratulations "totally rad" or "laughably bad". I could be even more specific and say that if you've ever reached a "Special Stage" in Sonic the Hedgehog you've probably had nightmares resembling this album art, but I digress. How you respond to this artwork is likely how you will respond to this album when you realize there are no discernible singles to be found here. No 'Kids', no "Time to Pretend" and DEFINITELY no "Electric Feel".
The sophomore album is a complex beast. Bands of every genre have struggled with the age-old question: embrace the elements that brought you critical and commercial acclaim and risk becoming pigeon-holed or defy critics and jump into the abyss on your own terms? I can count on one hand bands who have managed the latter, but they do exist. Arcade Fire expanded their sound on Neon Bible and managed to reinforce what attracted people to them in the first place. The Strokes changed very little with Room On Fire and while it was well-received, the taut formula became unraveled as they tried to break out of it on their third album. Indie darlings Clap Your Hands Say Yeah defied critics (and their fans) most resolutely on Some Loud Thunder, burying the opening track under so much distortion and fuzz that they were nearly DARING you to keep listening, hoping to shake off fair weather carpet-bagger hipsters in the process. Those who persevered were rewarded with a charming album, but the stakes were clear from the first note. You like us, or you don't. If you don't, there's the door. If you do, buckle up.
That seems to be the ride that MGMT are going for here, and the results are as frustrating as they are fleetingly exhilarating. Perhaps the best microcosm of this fact is "Someone's Missing", a 2 minute 30 second piece whose calculated buildup is as thrilling and satisfying as anything The Magic Kingdom can offer, but no sooner does it reach the groovy chorus does it fade out into next track. This mind-boggling abridgment is made even more bizarre when you come across the 12-minute turd "Siberian Breaks" two songs later. Songs that have legs and a direction have said legs cut off before they can even stand, and meandering songs are allotted as much time as they need to stretch out and reach their illogical ends. It's a curious decision, and one that in all likelihood did not come easy.
There are supremely successful (and respected) bands who have embraced the psychedelic in their music (See: Animal Collective, Flaming Lips), so there is certainly room for MGMT to make a career out of their trippiness. Not only do they seem to have no interest in this, if this album is any indication, they seem utterly repulsed by the idea. As I said before, I have no problem with bands taking creative risks with their music, as long as I trust that they know and are confident in what they are doing. Judging from this half-baked mess, I'm not convinced MGMT is drinking their own Kool-aid.