REVIEW: MGMT - "Congratulations"
Zach Hart Wednesday, April 07, 2010
MGMT - "Congratulations"
Release Date: April 13th, 2010
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Everything was set up for me to absolutely hate this record. Everyone went crazy for “Oracular Spectacular” while I never understood the appeal of three straightforward synth pop hits surrounded by bland track after forgettable song that made up their debut. Then MGMT released what I consider the worst album art of this new decade for the follow up, “Congratulations”. Thoughts of panning this album began floating in my head. Then the track listing was presented with rage inducing song titles. There is no way I will ever like a song called Brian Eno (who does this band think they are writing a song about the great Brian Eno?) and “Lady Dada’s Nightmare” (is this a pun or combination of Lady Gaga and the Dada art movement?…kill me now). I grabbed a pen and paper, pressed play on their early leaked album and prepared myself to scribble funny musings on the horrible moments of this new album. Forty-three minutes later the paper was empty, the pen untouched. The wonderful gift of music had shocked me once again; this band that I had every intention of not liking had made my favorite album of 2010 so far. You see, it’s not about what a band has done in the past, the album artwork, the track titles, what other music bloggers say, it’s about you and the music…and MGMT has won me over with a masterpiece.
The early buzz on this album is that MGMT had lost their way. Where are those infectious synth lines? Where’s the hit single? This sounds nothing like “Oracular Spectacular”! The first thing I want to make extremely clear is that “Congratulations” proves that Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden are extremely smart musicians with an extensive knowledge of music history. “Congratulations” can be summed up as a nod to the 60’s-early 70’s psych rock period with a brilliant contemporary touch. This is an album for fans of The Zombies, The Sonics, The Beach Boys, The Leaves, and many others. The contemporary touch comes with MGMT’s sparse use of a synth hit here or a little echo on the vocals there. When approaching the task of making a 60’s synth album today, there is a fine line between ripping off and homage. MGMT takes these presented options and makes a whole new sound. As a huge fan and student of the entire Zombies catalogue, this album drips with moments that would make Rod Argent proud. From the bass on “It’s Working”, the slow moving melody of “Someone’s Missing”, to the entire song “I Found A Whistle”, the whole album reads as the lost Zombies record that could have followed the classic “Begin Here”.
The influences don’t stop with The Zombies. The title track “Congratulations” is a contemporary spin on the 70’s David Bowie heyday songs. “Brian Eno” is not only a b-side to “Here Come The Worm Jets” but acts as the best example of creating a new sound out of emulating the brilliant music of the past. At every moment of this record there is something already known and something new…this hybrid of sounds creates a delightful and mind altering déjà vu effect (what I consider to be the second biggest obstacle for people reviewing this record). The drums on all these tracks sound like better recorded cuts from The Sonics “Here Are The Sonics”. The album from start to finish, if you really give it close inspection, is a supremely successful experiment in sound fusion, tip toeing the thin line of taking the influence too far and not adding enough…spoiler…they make it across the line with flying colors.
The production on this album might be more impressive than the smart songwriting. Many people know Phil Spector and his wall of sound, but few recognize the genius of English producer Joe Meek. Meek is responsible for what I consider the most important instrumental track of all time with The Tornado’s “Telstar”. Go listen to that song, Meek’s production, and then the goal/success of “Congratulations” becomes crystal clear. I never thought I would hear a contemporary album and feel like Meek was behind it; MGMT has finally laid that thought to rest.
For those who don’t like 60’s psych or appreciate MGMT’s use of diving into the old record stacks as inspiration and wanted another album full of “Electric Feel”, “Kids”, and what nots…you will never like this album, sorry. A band is allowed to change their sound and not have to apologize for it…like MGMT has been doing in recent interviews. If you have an open mind for music I encourage you to go back and listen to The Zombies “Begin Here”, Brian Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets”, and David Bowies “Hunky Dory”. Then listen to “Congratulations” and let the fusion set in. Let your mind explore the process. Focus on the timeless sounds and the amazing restraint MGMT uses when selecting to use a more contemporary technique for certain moments to keep the listener on their toes and fresh. This album and the simple pre-conceived notions of hate I had going into “Congratulations” reminded me why I run this blog and more importantly why I love music like nothing else. Music has a lot of bells and whistles, marketing schemes, commercial placements, buzz…but none of that matters when it’s just the listener in a room with the headphones on. It’s raw. One on one. The only thing that matters at that point is if the music is good. Does it hit you emotionally? Twenty years from now when music journalists look back on MGMT, “Congratulations” will be thought of as the more important, lasting, and influential album than “Oracular Spectacular”. MGMT’s “Congratulations” is a highly intelligent masterpiece and I feel sad for anyone who doesn’t give this record a chance.