I think I speak for nearly everyone when I say that MGMT’s first album is soooooooo 2008. Whilst we all danced along to Electric Feel, Kids and Time to Pretend for the entire summer, we knew that it was only a fad- that these intensely catchy songs would soon fade to oblivion, their impact diminishing over time and MGMT becoming less and less a part of our zeitgeist. Messrs Van Wyngarden and Goldwasser realised their cultural significance was waning, and choose to do something about it. It would be reasonable to expect this something to subsist of another bunch of disposable dance songs, with perhaps a few interweaved tracks demonstrating their broad-mindedness and musical nous. To be honest, I don’t think anyone would have really been disappointed with this; MGMT had obviously built a solid foundation on which a lucrative music career could be built on, and besides, no one expected anything more from them.
But now Congratulations has come out and changed all my preconceptions about them. Since I live in the 21st century, I have an amazingly short attention span. Since I live in the 21st century, I only listened to the hits from Oracular Spectacular, and failed to really see what they were doing with the other not so popular tracks. Since I live in the 21st century, I think “The Office” is the greatest sitcom in television history.
(Oh wait. That’s not related at all. But my point still stands.)
When I heard that MGMT announced there would be no singles off their new album, I was intrigued. Why would a band eliminate the very thing that brought the acme of their musical stardom about? The only logical reason appeared to be that they had simply gone insane. When I listened to the album, I was proved right.
Congratulations is plain weird. From Andrew Van Wyngarden’s sometime faux British affectation, to the occasional screams heard on certain tracks, it seems there is nothing remotely normal about any facet of this album. And this is why it is so good. The duo have taken umbridge at the fact that they are popular in the traditionalist sense of the word, and seek to destroy this and rise, much like a phoenix, from the ashes of their demise. For there is rarely a predictable, good ol’ MGMT moment on Congratulations. From the first track, the delightfully zany “It’s Working”, the listener is made to work to appreciate the music and lyrcis presented. It’s almost as if they feel a role reversal is necessary; they earned our love on the first album, now we have to earn their’s. It’s a band who have no thought for musical self-preservation, and is analogous to the sportspeople who behave in much the same way- whilst you may not be a fan, you do have to respect them for it.
It’s easy to say that this is the year’s most daring album by an ultra-popular musical act. (Oops! I just did!) But this is underselling the album as just being deliberately confluential. The truth is, it’s merely what the guys probably wanted to do in the first place. By creating a safer, more commercially viable debut, they set themselves up with maximum artistic license for their follow-up. In a way, this is a vanity project for them. Though rather than wallowing in self-indulgence, MGMT feel the need to highlight their inspirations, whether it be The Television Personalities, Brian Eno, or even Lady Gaga.
The actual music, I suppose, is rather important to the import of the album itself. But I only have one thing to say about it: it’s wholly unpredictable. Even the 12 minute epic “Siberian Breaks” is constantly changing.
The lyrics? “If you’re conscious you must be depressed/ Or at least cynical”. This sums up MGMT fairly well, I think. They’ve toured the world, lived out the most fantastical elements of “Time to Pretend”, and have had enough of it. These are just two guys who want nothing more than to write music that challenges you, music that provokes an emotional response. And I’m fine with that.