- 14 Apr 10
Brooklyn hit makers take a turn for the freaky
Listening to the most hyped-up and controversial record of 2010, I can see why Psychedelic rock has replaced Electro pop as the musical description du jour on MGMT’s Wikipedia page. In fact, there are nine very good reasons why and they are all on Congratulations. Success sure can make you do some crazy shit.
Before the release date for a second LP was set, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden had made it clear that their sophomore outing would be an album, not a composite CD of hit singles and misfit filler. While everyone and their Nana bopped around to ‘Time To Pretend’ and ‘Kids’ way back in Oh Eight, Congratulations was always meant to explore the alternative side to MGMT that most of us hadn’t quite twigged yet (clearly we missed Oracular Spectacular’s trippy, organ-led ‘The Handshake’).
By way of entree, opener ‘It’s Working’ is excited surf rock transmitted straight from the rings of Saturn: you immediately know that we’re in deep space here. For its part, ‘Song For Dan Treacy’ – an ode to the Television Personalities mainman! –comes on like noughties darlings The View trapped in a Scooby Doo mystery. Very strange indeed. Later on, ‘Brian Eno’ is unadulterated kookiness and ‘I Found A Whistle’ is a whole new kind of singalong psychedelia. When you add it all up, I’m just as amazed as you are that a pop record can conjure up images this vivid and twisted.
Congratulations races by in a tuneless whir. It is frequently spooky and, for the most part, chorusless. The doom-laden ‘Someone’s Missing’ is the closest thing to an Oracular-brand hit, and even then, the catch really doesn’t kick in ‘til the last minute.
A winding, cartwheeling journey of lyrical nonsense (“Stab your Facebook/ Sell sell sell/ Undercooked/ Overdone…,” they intone on ‘Flash Delirium’), this is a kind of flipped-out Monkees album, reimagined through a drug dream (more than a few bloggers have noted similarities between ‘Flash Delirium’ and ‘Prince Of Parties’, the tune the Flight Of The Conchords boys croon when they’ve taken a 16th of an acid tab).
On the sweet but warpy titular closing track, Andrew VanWyngarden croons: “All I need’s a great big congratulations…” Clearly, MGMT seem to think congratulations are in order, but I’m not so sure. I hugely enjoyed the Brooklynites’ turn for the freaky as a kind of oddball treat, but, like many others out there in radio land, at the end of it all, I’m left feeling vexed that there’s nothing herein to lose my mind to in a club.
Still, Congratulations works remarkably well as an album and its truly bonkers narrative makes a hell of a lot more sense on the seventh listen than it does on the first. In that way, MGMT have achieved what they set out to do and you have to admire them for risking their successful hides for a walk on the psychedelic side. I guess for some people, making truly fantastic pop songs just isn’t enough.