Music

MGMT: Congratulations

The bad news: there’s no "Kids" here, so don’t go looking. The good news: there’s no "Kids" here, and MGMT is perfectly fine with that.


MGMT

Congratulations

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2010-04-13
UK Release Date: 2010-04-12
Amazon
iTunes

“I hope I die before I get sold,” quips MGMT towards the end of Congratulations. It’s a clever one-liner, belied more than a little by the band’s gold-certified, Grammy-recognized stature. That it comes during the heavily anticipated follow-up to a wildly successful debut feels bitingly sarcastic. That it comes halfway through “Siberian Breaks”, however -- Congratulations’ prog-inflected, marathon-length centerpiece -- seems eerily appropriate. The song is the logical culmination of the album’s defiantly anti-commercial tendencies; embodied here, in these fiercely psychedelic 12 minutes and 10 seconds, is its staunch refusal to cater to fan expectations what MGMT is, was, or should be.

Much clearer, then, is the firm expression of what the band won’t be, starting now: a singles act. Like Pearl Jam in 1993 -- reeling from both the expectation and disillusionment wrought by a smash debut -- MGMT has presented its sophomore effort as an explicit attempt to grapple with, or perhaps even question, its massive success. “It's us trying to deal with all the craziness that's been going on since our last album took off,” explained VanWyngarden. “Sometimes it just doesn't feel natural.”

Pearl Jam chose not to release any music videos from Vs. MGMT insist now that Congratulations won’t yield any singles. (Yes, “Flash Delirium” was made available in March as a free download; no, that doesn’t make it a single.) It’s not so drastic a decision when you hear the album. There’s nothing here approaching the radio accessibility and synth-driven immediacy of a “Kids” or “Time to Pretend”. Nor, I think, will there even be a dark horse hit in the vein of Oracular’s transcendent, disco-tinged “Electric Feel”. Gone entirely is the self-conscious divide that detached Oracular Spectacular’s hit-laden first half from its more sprawling, spacey latter half. Congratulations flows like an album in the classic sense of the term, and Goldwasser seems sincere in his plea that listeners don’t “just figure out what are the best three tracks, download those, and not listen to the rest of it.”

And so, in the absence of Oracular’s pulsing, dance-ready synth-pop, Congratulations takes its cues from the cosmic-charged psychedelia of that album’s latter half. With half of Spacemen 3 behind the production board, this should come as no surprise. Pete Kember’s production manifests itself in far unsubtle ways -- in dense sheets of Panda Bear-style reverb, in thick organ flourishes and flute solos, in the detuned piano arpeggios that close out the title track. “I Found a Whistle” seems most directly culled from the Spacemen 3 ilk. Awash in swirling organ fades and acoustic guitars, the track feels like a weary “Pieces of What”-meets-Playing With Fire hybrid that reveals itself on repeated listens as one of Congratulations’ most rewarding moments. Elsewhere, Kember’s influence seeps subtly into the album’s terse, frenetic punk tributes to Television Personalities’ Dan Treacy and Brian Eno, both songs among its most immediate, lighthearted moments.

The album’s whirlpool psychedelia may seem a logical progression, but its decidedly retro tinge adds a striking counterpart. “It’s Working”, for example, blasts open the album with frantic surf-rock flourishes and thinly veiled drug imagery (“Turn the noise on / I'd like to feed my poison”); then, somewhere along the way, appears the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” drum loop, only to segue into a triumphant doo-wop refrain. It may be the first time a variation on the '50s progression (see: “Stand By Me”, “He's Sure the Boy I Love”) appears on an MGMT record, but it’s not the last. The excellent “Someone’s Missing” treads similar '50s chordal territory, merging falsetto-tinged disco balladry with Kember’s organ soundscapes -- that is, until the echo gives way into a euphoric Motown groove lifted from the “I Want You Back” bassline.

If that track’s Jackson 5 appropriation feels eerily natural, then “Flash Delirium” -- a breathless pastiche of doo-wop, '50s rock ’n’ roll, flute solo, and a punk climax -- fails in part because it sounds so forced. With its clumsy transitions and hollow attempt at social commentary (“Stab your Facebook / Sell sell sell”), the song’s grasp of self-conscious, White Album-style irony (“Happiness Is a Warm Gun” seems the clearest reference point) feels shallow and stilted -- like second-rate Of Montreal. Thankfully, “Siberian Breaks”’ huge length affords it far more time to develop and breathe, its Floydian prog influence obvious but never overpowering (or drenched in smug ironic detachment à la “Flash Delirium”).

“Out with a whimper / It’s not a blaze of glory,” goes a line in the title track, and it’s all too true. The album’s closing moments far fail to measure up with the inventive stylistic pastiches that come before. With its casio drums, muddled piano build-up, and novelty screams, “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” is little more than “Great Gig in the Sky”-lite, while the title track concludes on a thoroughly forgettable note. The lyrics seem vaguely to deal with (surprise!) fame and disillusionment: “All is well if the ticket sells.” And then: “But all is lost if it's never heard.” Despite its flagrantly anti-commercial tendencies, Congratulations will, without question, be heard, and by millions. But as what -- an all-too-familiar expression of post-fame disillusionment? a fearless psych-rock masterpiece? a shape-shifting tribute, both lyrically and musically, to retro influences? -- remains unclear.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.