Take Only What You Need From It
The decent singles on MGMT’s popular debut Oracular Spectacular poked out of a neo-psychedelic haze that, truth be told, was painfully inferior to that of contemporaries like Yeasayer and Animal Collective. Brooklynites Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden proved themselves as adept at hiding their hammy history as spinning the thread of their college jam-band fandom into gold. Their follow-up Congratulations finds MGMT—yikes—doubling down on the retro weirdness.
Except on its singles, Oracular had listeners pursuing sounds informed by David Bowie and The Moody Blues. MGMT chop up and add to Congratulations the distant guitar-and-drum echoes of many “The” rockers from the ’60s—The Animals, The Hollies, The Zombies, The Doors, The Who. Expanded to include three touring band members and produced by Pete Kember (Sonic Boom, Spacemen 3, Spectrum), their strategy and execution end up eliminating much of the radio-friendliness heard on their debut.
Promising songs crash into walls of annoyance; “Someone’s Missing” fades out as it peaks, for example, and the band insist on a criminal accent on the “no” in “Brian Eno.” Their lyrics dip into noodling narratives instead of any engaging verses and choruses—see their paean to the lead singer of Television Personalities, “Song for Dan Treacy.”
Other songs feature multiple styles or arrangements that tire or annoy the listener. The overlong “Siberian Breaks” works best at points where the band separately apes Leonard Cohen and The Mamas & the Papas. When you have to apologize for your first single (as MGMT did following the online release of multifaceted march “Flash Delirium”), as the Internet says: YR DOIN IT WRONG.
If MGMT want to argue they’re attempting to stay true to their craft, eschewing outright accessibility for artistic development, that’s their prerogative. They get close on two straightforward, almost-acoustic numbers: the closing title track and “I Found a Whistle.” But Congratulations is otherwise an irredeemable mess. Barring a third album to right their ship, it pretty much cements their dance-rock screech “Kids” as the high point of the MGMT catalog.