MGMT - Congratulations Album Review
Having released one of 2008's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in 'Oracular Spectacular', it seemed like MGMT could do no wrong, no matter how hard they tried. While there was no doubting their pop sensibility and ear for an incessant hook, delve into the deepest recesses of 'Oracular Spectacular' and it soon became clear MGMT weren't just your average radio friendly combo. 'The Handshake' or 'Of Moons, Birds And Monsters' gave some indication as to where their thought processes were really at while early b-side 'Destrokk' displayed a more esoteric tendency than many had given them credit for, even in their most embryonic stages.
So, onto that hugely anticipated follow-up, and the initial stories emerging from Camp MGMT that former Spacemen 3 founder Pete Kember (aka Sonic Boom) would be producing the record raised many an eyebrow from the outset. The early signs seemed promising as well, 'Song For Dan Treacy' and 'Congratulations', soon to be the album's title track proving two of the most memorable highlights of their triumphant V Festival set last summer. While neither was a million miles away from some of the aforementioned tracks from 'Congratulations' predecessor, it would also be fair to say they obviously weren't intent on making a direct sequel to 'Kids' or 'Time To Pretend' either. Indeed, if the success of 'Oracular Spectacular' had been something of a fortuitous accident, it would be highly unlikely daytime radio playlisters would view any of album number two in the same light.
What is most apparent on 'Congratulations' is the way MGMT have plundered much of its inspiration from some of England's quirkiest characters of its musical lineage. Syd Barrett, Davy Jones, Pete Doherty and of course the Television Personalities all receive a modicum of dotage here, while the hefty twelve-minute endurance test that is 'Siberian Breaks' probably emanates somewhere around 1975's Emerson, Lake and Palmer overkill that fast-tracked punk rock's development.
Openers 'Its Working' and 'Song For Dan Treacy' hint at a more playful mood, both revealing a more psychedelic pop edge that could be stuck anywhere between 1965 and 1986, the latter finding Andrew VanWyngarden sound uncannily like Pete Doherty in places. When he sings "Lost revelations that I'll never find" on the introspective 'Someone's Missing' or the sanguine darkness of 'I Found A Whistle', a close cousin to The Monkees 'Porpoise Song' off their own statement of artistic rather than commercial intent 'Head', there's a slight suggestion that the happy-go-lucky exterior throughout 'Oracular Spectacular' was merely a smokescreen to hide a more insular, reflective beast on the inside.
The album's mid-point of 'Siberian Breaks' and pointless instrumental 'Lady Dada's Nightmare' would be pretty forgettable if they didn't go on forever and a day, although one of the record's highlights, 'Brian Eno', finds itself sandwiched in-between for good measure. Sounding not unlike Supergrass in their 'I Should Coco' heyday as re-interpreted by a latter-day Syd Barrett, their hyperactive tribute to the producer extraordinaire dispels the notion that 'Congratulations' has no singles within its confines.
By the time the pensive title track brings the record to a close, again courtesy of more downbeat lyrical asides such as "Dead in the water, its not a paid vacation", its clear that MGMT have made the record they've probably been dreaming of since their formation four years ago. While 'Congratulations' may cost them a few casual fans in the process, it's a bold and ambitious step forward that for the most part, works on pretty much every level. Where messrs VanWyngarden and Goldwasser head for album number three only they know, but one thing's for certain; it's sure as hell going to be an exciting ride trying to fathom the process out.