MGMT – Congratulations

Release Date 12/04/2010 (Sony BMG)

By Chris Gilliver

You have to admire MGMT’s bloody mindedness. They release what were arguably the three finest singles of the noughties (honestly, who can resist the pop euphoria of “Kids”?), and record one of the finest albums in recent memory. A large number of their fans don’t get, skip over, or simply disregard as self-indulgent noodling most of the album tracks – like bosching a load of magic mushrooms these are just the weird smelling floaty bits you have to consume to hit dizzying heights. Then MGMT announce that there aren’t going to be any singles a la “Oracular Spectacular” on new album “Congratulations”. It will consist entirely of those tracks that many passed over to get to the singles, and MGMT commit commercial suicide just as they brake into the mainstream. Po-faced fans and critics alike blub as their dreams of “Time To Pretend” repeated to infinity implode. If that wasn’t enough “Congratulations” gets leaked and they stream the entire album online for free, three weeks prior to the scheduled release.

What did we expect? Surely it was always obvious that MGMT were a bit too pretentious, aloof, and cerebral to dance to anyone’s tune but their own. Plus, it was those album tracks between the singles that really made me think that we had something really quite special on our hands. You can’t honestly tell me that you didn’t love the Dave Gilmour style guitar playing on “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”, or the arrogant stomp of “The Handshake”. It was these tracks that set them apart from Empire of the Sun. Empire of the Sun are a great singles bands, and MGMT are a great band in their entirety.

Even so, all this doesn’t detract from the fact that “Celebrations” disappoints on first listen.  Those singles weren’t just isolated enjoyable moments; they acted as the ice-breaker for the rest of the album. Without them this seems far more impenetrable. But, after several more listens it opens up on a cosmic scale. If anything “Congratulations” cements MGMT’s place as one of the finest bands of our time.

Let’s start with first release “Flash Delirium”. Initially confusing, it develops into an awe-inspiring, sprawling piece of Brian Wilson style experimentalism, flashing from 60s psychedelia, through flute solos and tribal chanting to finally, and oh so satisfyingly, end up on a primal punk scream. No other band could do all this and still make it sound poppy. The track acts as a microcosm for the album as a whole.

“Congratulations” is fundamentally an affair rooted in the 60s. Early Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, and The Flaming Lips all play massive parts, but there’s an underlying punk element that raises a smile from time to time. Opening track “It’s Working” sounds like a Pixies track from Frank Black’s alien abduction phase. Even though critics have always sighted this as a downturn in the quality of the Pixies output, I loved this tangential shift, and here it’s a welcome influence. Bizarrely, track 2 “Song for Dan Treacy” (main man from Television Personalities) could have been written by Pete Doherty. “I Found A Whistle” is a classic “Oracular Spectacular” moment featuring a slow build based around a simple central theme that will inevitable blind live.

Elsewhere things are far more surreal. “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” is a purely instrumental number that finishes with humorous smiles and screams. You get the feeling that this is just some sort of in joke, the details of which we are not privy to. “Siberian Break” ends up sounding like John Cale’s spoken word track “The Gift” off The Velvet Underground’s “White Light White Heat”.  “Congratulations” is the album’s glorious, and surprisingly straight, conclusion. It’s the first time we come face to face with the Andrew VanWyngarden, and not surprisingly he’s saying that all he need is “A Great Big Congratulations”. He might not even get that.

This album is a big “fuck you” to those people who only listened to the singles, and couldn’t be bothered to listen to the album as a whole. Those fans will be saying “fuck you” back. They wanted an album of “Kids” and they didn’t get even one. Whether this was born out of the frustration of touring where the audience only bopped to the singles I can only guess. What I am sure of is that this album does miss those phenomenal early singles, but nevertheless “Congratulations” is an excellent follow up, as satisfying as it is deep. It’s an old cliché, but if this had been written by anyone else it would be heralded as the best album so far this decade, which it is. Whether this will be the general consensus remains to be seen. I doubt it.

One response

17 04 2010
Craig Nelson

I didn’t hear any of MGMT’s previous singles or the first album. Not sure why exactly. I had heard of them, obviously, but never got round to paying them any attention.

I then spend a few minutes thumbing through random albums in HMV during my lunch hour and I am taken by the music playing in the background.

I ask about it at the till and it turns out to be Congratluations. Purchase made and I have been listening to it ever since. It’s the kind of quirky, trippy mish mash of stuff I tend to like. Polyphonic Spree meets Arcade Fire meets Flight of the Conchords. I love it.

So I guess that goes some way to proving your point Chris.

What do MGMT fans think?

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