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Album Review: MGMT ‘Congratulations’

‘Congratulations’ is a disappointing record, but then it was always going to be.

When a band comes out with a debut as massively successful as ‘Oracular Spectacular’, and then waste no time at all in announcing that they will be “changing direction” for their sophomore album, it will always been seen as a disappointment.

‘Oracular Spectacular’ had songs that defined a generation, from the yearning for childhood of Kids (“You pick the insects off plants, no time to think of consequences”) to the brutal reality about dreaming of stardom of Time To Pretend (“We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end”). Above all else it was a hooky, synthy joy ride, that was incredibly catchy and very very fun.

‘Congratulations’, by contrast, is without the hooks, without the fun, and, for the most part, without the synths. It would be impossible to recognise that both albums were from the same band if you weren’t told beforehand (although there are hints of this new direction in the ‘Oracular Spectacular’ track Pieces Of What).

MGMT first released ‘Congratulations’ track Flash Delirium as a free download, and it was universally slammed (and rightfully so), to the point where the band even came out and apologised for it, which must surely have been an unprecedented event. It only further illustrates the fact that perhaps MGMT don’t want this album to be a success (at least by the conventional definition of success). They wrote on their website that they would have released the album for free had their record label allowed them to, and even publicised the fact that the album had leaked on their site, which is like an advertisement for people to go and download it.

The songs of ‘Congratulations’ really don’t offer much though. There is nothing at all special here. Opener It’s Working certainly shows traces of brilliance with a frantic and bass-heavy introduction that leads into a psychedelic and enjoyable chorus. However by the time you’ve worked your way through the meandering middle of the album and arrived at the 12 minute Siberian Breaks you have just about had enough of the monotony. It is almost as if ‘Congratulations’ is a album that is not meant to be liked: I mean, really, who wants to hear a 12 minute MGMT song?

I stand by my love of album finisher Congratulations, which is the only reason I don’t unequivocally hate this album. It is very much in this new direction of MGMT, but it is a wonderful song, illustrating that there is hope for the future of MGMT. It is the only indicator on this album that the band might outlast the very short lifetime most critics have given their music. “As strange as it seems, I’d rather dissolve than have you ignore me”.

Ultimately, however, ‘Congratulations’ is a thoroughly unlikable album. It will certainly put a lot of casual MGMT fans off the band, which may in fact have been a hidden purpose of the album. Maybe the band could learn to pay heed to their own famous words: “We’ve got the vision, now let’s have some fun”. If only ‘Congratulations’ seemed like it was at least fun to record then it would offer something to the fans, who could recognise that “At least they’re doing what they want to do and having a dam good time doing it”.

MGMT are of course the first to admit that they have been over-hyped in the first place, with band members routinely saying that they don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

I just feel like saying to them that ‘all the fuss’ is about an album that defined a generation with inescapably catchy pop tunes and relatable lyrics; an album that magnified everything that is good about pop music and exaggerated it with unabashed assurance and youth. And that there is nothing at all wrong with being loved for that. It seems like it’s already too late however, with ‘Congratulations’ being some combination of a plea to be taken seriously by music critics and a defiant stand against the expectations of fans.

It is of course the band’s decision if they want to take a new direction with their music, and who knows where it will lead in the future. For the time being, however, ‘Congratulations’ is a remarkably unremarkable record. I really really wish that MGMT had perhaps seen fit to bless fans with just one more ‘Oracular Spectacular’ before they felt the need to move so drastically away from its style.

Album Rated: 5/10

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10 Responses to “Album Review: MGMT ‘Congratulations’”

  1. Congratulations = Oracular Arsetacular. I think they named the album Congratulations for anyone patient enough to sit through it until that final track. It’s one thing to want to go all “art” and change direction. It’s another thing to make music that is both art and appealing. If this indeed was deliberate, then perhaps it’s also why they don’t want to be remembered for this album by including their band name on the cover.

  2. Honestly, I was quite prepared to hate this album. First listen was rough but there were a few glimmers of hope that i may grow to like it (unusual cyclical chord changes and the lyric stating Brian Eno’s full name being a couple).When I sat through Siberian Breaks I though, “Well that’ll be the first and last time I do that”. But a strange thing happened on the way out of the asylum. Little flickers of flashbacks speckled my days. Yum.I went back for more.I think i might REALLY like it. Its a different beast to Oracular.Fine by me, I was relieved not to hear any dirty big hook synth lines that eventually wore me down. If I dont hear ‘Kids’ for 5 years, that’ll be fine.Like that big Lime green feature wall in your loungeroom that’s now hurting your eyes, it was amazing for a while! I even like the cover now! Anyway, just an opinion and just to let folks now that some people are digging the change.
    ps panda band are recording. yeh its taking me ages but I’ll get there in the next few months, even sooner if i stay of the internet!!Peace all.damian

    • Thanks Damian, it’s always interesting to hear different opinions on these kind of things. Sadly my opinion of the album hasn’t really changed much with repeated listens, but that’s just me. I definitely look forward to hearing any new stuff from The Panda Band, I love you guys :)

  3. himynameisjordan Reply April 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Well, I’ve definitely read a fair share of blogs and opinions on the new album. I am for sure a die-hard MGMT fan and I enjoy the album. I think the goal that Ben and Andrew had was to make an album that didn’t have one particular song that was the best. With Oracular Spectacular, everyone stuck to 3 main downloads…Kids, Time to Pretend, and Electric Feel. The rest of the album was completely ignored, which is a shame because the other songs are fantastic. Congratulations definitely, in my opinion, goes more off of the other songs on the Oracular Spectacular, veering away from the poppy Kids, to more a dark psychedelic vibe. I think the goal was to make the album so you had to buy the entire album, and listen to the entire album to really get a feel. Okay, the first time through to some people could be painful…but with more listening, you pick up different parts of songs that you didn’t notice before. This album is DEFINITELY one you have to listen through more than once. Trust me, it’ll turn out to be fantastic :) or I hope so….goodness MGMT for life!

    • Yeah but it takes talent for artists to make an album that is both deep, layered, cohesive as a whole, and memorable without having to force yourself to digest it over 5+ listens first. It takes sheer laziness and complacency to instead bring out something confusing, unmemorable, isolating and distancing from the listener.

  4. I think this album is brilliant. Most people don’t like this album simply because it is completely different from what they expected of MGMT. Oracular Spectacular had 3 singles and they are what it sold on; Congratulations is a much deeper album that is meant to be listened to as a whole.

  5. Haha well at least this is inspiring some debate. To me it comes down to the question: would you be listening to this album if it wasn’t by MGMT? And for most people, I think the honest answer is no.

  6. I actually PREFER Congratulations to Oracular.

  7. MGMT did not apoligise for the song. He aplogised to the fans that were dissapointed.

    “When we first wrote that song, we were laughing so hard. Andrew [VanWyngarden] just reminded me of that, that we thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever heard. And then we got used to it, it started to sound more normal. It’s not a single, but we thought it was a good way to entice people to listen to the whole record. I’m sure there are plenty of people who think it’s completely weird and not what they were expecting. I’m sorry.”

  8. Just wondering, has this grown on you at all? Because I kinda liked it at first, and now have grown to love it. It’s a far superior album to OracSpec in my opinion, which had a number of dreary, dull songs.

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