After a debut of sing-along hits, the duo takes refuge in druggy experimentalism.
Johnny Sharp 2010-04-01
There is a stock interview quote given by artists following up a wildly successful album, explaining the new direction they’ve taken.
“It would have been so easy for us to write another (insert name of hit record),” they say, “but that doesn’t interest us.”
The truth is, though, that it’s anything but easy to reproduce the formula of a successful album. That is especially true for the men who are expected to emulate the effortless pop charms of MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular. After the whirlwind of attention they received off the back of it, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser are evidently no longer the same happy-go-lucky duo that dreamt up the goofy keyboard hooks that made Time to Pretend and Kids so irresistible. So on Congratulations they haven’t even tried to write any hits, taking refuge in druggy experimentalism.
Opinion is sure to be divided as to whether that represents bravery or cowardice. They’ve certainly woven a dizzying tapestry of tunes. The stop-start tempo, wrong-footing chord changes and childlike vocals of It’s Working set the trippy template and the wired, Wurlitzer-filled Song For Dan Treacy gives off heavy whiffs of 60s British acid pop, even if the likeable Syd Barrett-isms are offset by echoes of Spinal Tap’s (Listen to the) Flower People.
Such wilful wackiness would work better if it was sandwiched, like the more outré moments of Oracular Spectacular, between more accessible riffs and hooks, but they offer such vulgar pleasures with tantalising irregularity. Someone’s Missing briefly breaks into a soulful falsetto chorus but then fades out before it can take up residence in our heads. Likewise, the initial mellow meanderings of Siberian Breaks build into a gorgeous melodic swell, but it only appears once within a 12-minute prog-pop sprawl. Flash Delirium also features slivers of delightfully frazzled surrealist pop, but any fans hoping for more indie anthems and festival sing-alongs are going to be sorely disappointed.
Still, you sense MGMT won’t be too bothered. The in-jokey psych-punk ditty Brian Eno is more evidence that they’re not really aiming to entertain anyone but themselves. And what emerges from such silliness is the pleasing sense that the duo had a blast making this record. Listening to it is also fun at times, but just as often it’s damned hard work.