Release Date: April 13, 2010
Reminds me of: The Byrds, Beatles, Donovan, The Beach Boys (Pet Sounds), Early Pink Floyd
Perhaps a more appropriate title for MGMT’s highly anticipated sophomore album would have been “Better Luck Next Time.” MGMT’s first full length album “Oracular Spectacular” catapulted them into stardom with a collection of hook-laden, funky, Bowie-esque electronic pop tunes. On this, their follow-up, the duo comprised of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, were clearly intent on discarding this somewhat magic formula. Sadly, “Congratulations” is a mash up or homage – depending on how much you like the album – of mid-60’s psychedelic rock, sounding more like the Monkey’s concept album “Head,” and less like something made in 2010 (the quasi-single “Flash Delirium” comes closest to sounding modern). To be sure, it is an admirable approach with some degree of ambition. Yet history tells us that ambition, absent any other motivation, can be dangerous territory for an album (see “Sam’s Town” by The Killers).
Ok fine, its not quite that bad. After all, it is more concise than its predecessor. Where “Oracular Spectacular” seemed to move in a thousand different directions, “Congratulations” flows quite well. Where the album falters is in the song structure of several tunes. Much of the album’s songs seem to meander. Clocking in at 12:10, “Siberian Breaks” is a perfect example of the sort of aimlessness that permeates “Congratulations”; it’s almost as if the boys were making it up as they go along. Yeah, yeah I know, the absence of a true single shouldn’t be grounds for condemnation. I don’t believe that the lack of a single on any album – pop music or not – should matter. I just want each song to have some purpose. Here, all too often, the songs seem to sound like amalgamations of different ideas sown together like a quilt.
Many listeners will laud the band for taking an aggressive approach to this album. Yet, songcraft and ambition need not be mutually exclusive. I wonder if anyone that loves this album will be listening to it in ten years? Why would anyone when they could just as easily pop in Pink Floyd’s “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and get the real thing?
Select cuts: It’s Working, Someone’s Missing, Congratulations