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MGMT ‘Congratulations’ – Review

13 Apr

Mgmt’s first album ‘Oracular Spectacular’ began with ‘Time to Pretend’, a sort of rock n roll shopping list – super models, drugs, champagne, divorce and an untimely death. It may have been tongue in cheek but the band probably ticked more boxes in the last two years than they had intended, and in a way they became the type of people they were mocking. They open their new album with an equally declarative number, ‘It’s working’, a song about the despair of being famous and the downside of said drugs. ‘My Mind’s affected, it’s empty now –  I see the signs of ageing.’ MGMT have dropped the satire (Well nearly), they’ve dropped the synths (well nearly) and they’ve gone from post nu rave to pastoral psychedelia, with an emphasis on past.  We’re not in Kansas anymore…

Except that we kind of are. You see as much as broadsheet journos and the NME would like to convince us that MGMT have abandoned ship and ‘gone weird’, it doesn’t ring true – not to anyone that actually heard ‘Oracular Spectacular’ rather than just the singles.  Song number two on that album was called ‘Weekend Wars’ and featured lyrics about ‘Mental mystics twisted in a metal car’. So on that basis was anyone really expecting an album made up entirely of synth pop? To set the record straight ‘Congratulations’ is not a grand departure but rather a natural progression. And it is a true triumph.

Whilst there are only nine tracks each individual song is like ten songs in one. If you heard first single (except don’t call it a single) ‘Flash Delirium’ then you will know what to expect. There is no traditional course that the band follow, just as you think a song is going one way it will cut diagonally and take you in a completely new direction. Hence flute solos, a glam rock interlude and a psych rock freak out in just four minutes. There are rarely choruses and it’s unusual for a theme (either musical or lyrical) to hold Andrew’s attention for more than a verse. Whilst this adventurous streak is admirable and insures repeated listens are a must, it sometimes leads to incohesive and even directionless songs. A good example is the 12 minute odyssey ‘Siberian Breaks’ which seems to ramble on forever without ever really getting anywhere.

But since when has rock music had to have direction – how rock n roll is that? Besides whilst individual songs lack a beginning middle and end the album itself has a better structure. It begins with a trio of perfect pop songs albeit pop in the old-fashioned sense of the word – anyone wanting radio 1 hit’s should steer clear of this album. ‘Song For Dan Treacy’ is a highlight for it’s Zombies style harmonies and typically witty lyrics about the lost soul of British punk. The middle section of the album is the aforementioned ‘weird’ bit but then the album crashes back down to earth with ‘Brian Eno’, a song surprisingly enough about Brian Eno. ‘Congratulations’ does name check a lot of unusual people, like Dan Tracey and in track eight Lady gaga, or Lady Dada as she is refered to here. I don’t think the freaky instrumental is essential but it’s not a horrible diversion, and it’s as weak as the album gets.

Things are brought to a close with the title track, easily the song most reminiscent of old school MGMT – although it’s more ‘Pieces of What’ than ‘Time To Pretend’. The song sums up the bands difficult relationship with, if not quite fame, then popularity. ‘It’s hardly sink or swim when all is well if the ticket sells’. The band clearly felt some conflict between being popular and making the music that they wanted to make. They also feel the weight of expectation more keenly than most groups do And yet despite this they have made an album that is unflinching in its goals and pretty heartless about any fans that get lost on the journey. Like Arctic Monkeys did last year they have made a divisive album that will be misunderstood by the majority of fans that brought the first record, but loved by the few that do get it.

I can’t imagine that anyone would be disappointed with what this album is; it’s an ambitious, colourful and imaginative record that sounds more interesting than anything else out this year. It is however easy to see why people would be disappointed with what this is not. This is not a itunes friendly album and this is not going to translate to radio or the clubs very easily. MGMT have decided where their loyalties lie and it’s with the strange. Now it’s up to their fans to do the same.

9/10