MGMT, Oh MGMT. I’m going to begin this review by saying that I am a completely biased listener. I was lucky enough to see them play in 2008, a good half a year before the (literal) hype machine started making Kids and Time to Pretend some of the most overplayed songs of the summer. I got to meet the band and get stuff signed, and for an impressionable 16-year-old that’s pretty life changing. I actually listened to and enjoyed the second half of Oracular Spectacular and have spent numerous afternoons rocking out to Metanoia. Suffice it to say I am a fan.
But don’t get me wrong. I did approach listening to this album with a critical ear. OK as critical as possible without having to be actually objective. Having that said, I love it.
But before I get into what Congratulations is, I want to get into what it is not. There are no Kids on this record. The sound found on Time to Pretend is all but completely diminished. In many respects this album is a lot more pared down and simple; undoubtedly the product of the band’s touring for nearly two years and learning that the transition from album to live show is not necessarily a smooth one. The production, although confirmed by the band as less of an influence, seems much more crisp and professional… No more strange pointless instruments or disturbing mixing to be found here.
But I hear you ask, “Gabby, how can it be MGMT without strange random instruments and horrible mixing? That would be like Jäger without alcohol… totally pointless and disgusting!”
That’s what I thought too people, until I heard the damn thing!
And now for the sycophantic fan-girl raving. OK so, where Oracular Spectacular was like an eclectic shiny musical mosaic, Congratulations is way more focused and cohesive effort. With its airy surf-rock, late 60’s pop sort of feel it’s very light without being kitschy. One of the most marked improvements is the vocal performances by Andrew VanWyngarden. Although his vocals on the last records were by no measure shoddy, he seems to have improved by miles. Sometimes laced with his customary Bowie-esque swagger (Flash Delirium) and other times traversing heady heights with a wavering feminine falsetto (Congratulations), Andrew seems to have finally learned how to harness his vocal versatility and distill some of the more distinctive aspects of his already unique voice.
Although most of the songs sort of fall into the same sort of psychedelic surf-rock vein there is still enough tonal variation to make the LP interesting. The opening track, the conspicuously titled It’s Working is almost uncomfortably appropriate start to the album; as if MGMT are some sort of hallucinogenic drug and they’re constantly afraid your trip won’t be good or, worse still, their music will have no effect whatsoever. I Found A Whistle sounds like a demented hymn with its invocation of “Hey I found a whistle/It works every time”, and the album rounds out with Congratulations which, in the present moment, is my favorite song on the album with its soulful melancholy.
My only real qualm with this album is the absence of the Prince/neo-funk influence that I loved in Electric Feel and Boogie Down. However, in the context of the direction they’ve gone with this album, it wouldn’t make much sense.
I could go on forever about the differences and similarities between these two albums, but ultimately I’d rather you just head on over to MGMT’s site and listen to it for yourself. I guess what it boils down to is a question of age. Despite the ridiculous cartoon cover, musically Congratulations is a hell of a lot more grown up than MGMT’s debut. It’s kind of like OS was the band’s drug addled adolescence, sort of an acid fueled parody of itself; full of melodrama and yet still extremely self-aware. I know it’s cliché to say, but it seems as if MGMT has grown up a whole lot on this album. They’ve settled down and learned how to use their peddles and not decided to go on any random bizarre musical tangent that had occurred to them. The result? A really enjoyable, well-made and FUN listen… And not in the old so-crappy-it’s-good way.
But yeah… the drugs are still totally there. Just not as obviously.
Congratulations comes out officially on 4/13 and you can pre-order it here.