MGMT ‘MGMT’ – Review

25 Sep

Does anybody know who MGMT are? Who they really are? Are they the rock-star-dreaming-prankstars who write songs about Electric eels? They certainly don’t seem to think so. Are they the pastoral psychedelic punks who make pretend it’s 1969 forever? Maybe. Maybe not. This self titled record, their third, doesn’t clarify things. In fact it muddies the narrative even further. They’ve clearly self-titled it for a reason; perhaps this is the album that they feel sums up who they are – which is weird cos it doesn’t really say anything about anything. But Ben and Andrew must feel it reveals the essential truth about MGMT. Perhaps that essential truth is that they are contrarians. This is an album that plays against their greatest strengths; it’s an album that feels not only a world away from the giddy electro pop of ‘Electric Feel’ and ‘Kids’ but also from the psychedelic whimsy of Congratulations.’ It doesn’t defy expectations or even ignore them, it acknowledges them and joylessly and self-consciously sticks its tongue out at them.

‘MGMT’ is the album that some critics thought ‘Congratulations’ was. They thought ‘Congratulations’ was difficult, tuneless, weird and un-poppy which just wasn’t true. ‘Congratulations’ was slightly strange but it also had the most gorgous melodies and sticky hooks. It was extremely accessible. ‘MGMT’ on the other hand is all those other adjectives. On this album MGMT sound like a band for whom songwriting is a genuine inconvenience that gets in the way of getting high and making weird sounds. These tracks are congested with dozens of fantastical musical ideas that are all played out at once. It’s claustrophobic and paranoid. There is no movement or progression. Songs start, they stop and in between a lot happens all at once. Melodies roll out quietly over the top but they aren’t considered important. Lyrics aren’t important. Guitars don’t really feature. rhythm is almost nonexistent. Every vocal has been distorted or clipped or given some weird warbly effect. The duo sound like sugar high kids in a major label sweet shop, given the resources and time to experiment with anything they like. It makes for the most aimless, meandering and frustrating record you’ll hear all year. But it’s also sparingly brilliant.

Album opener ‘Alien Days’ is the only song on here that you could pass off as a true success, and unsurprisingly it’s the only song that would have sat comfortably with its sonic brothers and sisters on ‘Congratulations’. Here the duo marry a sweet melody (that doesn’t sound like an afterthought!) with a progressive and interesting musical arrangement. ‘Cool Song Number 2’ snaps the momentum with a dowbeat tempo and some minor key noodling but It’s still the next best thing on here thanks to another stupendous melody that recalls Syd Barret era Pink Floyd. When they want to MGMT can still write impressive, hummable tunes – but that’s the point – they just don’t want to.

‘Your Life is a Lie’ for example has a fantastically nagging hook that sticks in your head, but for a reason known only to the band they make a mockery of it, repeating said hook until it evolves from an ear-worm in to a parasite. ‘Introspection’ is another song with real potential that’s undone by indulgence and extravagance. The production provided by the usually masterful Dave Friedman buries the potential deep in a boggy pit of synths and compression. The above songs make it out of the same pit alive by the skin of their teeth but the likes of ‘A Good Sadness’ and ‘Astro-Mancey’ get well and truly buried and forgotten.

The second half of the album just rambles along with no structure. It’s hard to convey just how plodding ‘Death and All His Friends’ feels for example. ‘Plenty of Fish In The Sea’ on the other hand is juvenile, throwaway and cheap, but in that sense it’s the closest relation to the band’s early hits. It comes from the same carefree place as ‘Electric Feel’ and it doesn’t sound burdened or heavy. unfortunately It sticks out like a sore thumb.

I think that’s the most frustrating thing for fans like myself. It’s not that we want MGMT to write another ‘Electric Feel’ (although the album would certainly benefit from something as sprightly as that) – the band themselves seem to be the only ones hung up on that notion. We want them to be true to themselves, we want them to be experimental, we want them to push the boundaries but we also want them to play to their strengths, and they don’t do that here. They are naturally melodic, naturally humourous and naturally quirky but they seem hell-bent on going in the opposite direction. This is a cynical, indulgent and self-sabotaging mess that will come as a massive disappointment not only to fans of ‘Oracular Spectacular’ but fans of ‘Congratulations’ as well. The fact that it’s occasionally brilliant just makes it all the more aggravating! MGMT are still a great band – there is enough evidence of that here – they need to learn to embrace that fact.

5.5/10

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