Artists evolve. I’m not talking about the candy ass singing heads major labels put in front of cameras with marionette strings attached. I those who are driven to create like the sun is driven to shine. They play from their heart, not from a reference track. If the fans like it, that’s great. If they don’t, it’s par for the evolutionary course and everyone will get over it.
What happens when that bleeding edge art for art’s sake style becomes mainstream? One day band X is the alternative to alternative, playing hole in the wall dives and communing with “real” music fans and the next they are granting uncomfortable interviews on red carpets and leasing their songs to TV shows they’re way too cool to watch.
How do they handle the fanfare? Well, if you are MGMT you take a complete 180 from the sound that was leading you down pop’s yellow brick road. You preserve some artistic merit and indie cred by giving those pop fringe hipsters exactly what they didn’t want and you call it Congratulations.
Weighing in at only nine songs, it’s short, but definitely not sweet. It’s odd in its construction. It creates strange sonic bedfellows and it undulates from genius to barely listenable, sometimes in the course of one song. It’s an interesting listen, but you probably will only listen once.
Congratulations is a conglomeration of elements that no one, up until now, thought could be tossed together to create even a shadow of a cohesive project. Surfer bongos, punk sensibilities, 80’s Brit pop, psychedelic nuance and even some Vegas showmanship ripped straight from the Copacabana are present and bathed in the essence of Pink Floyd. The band has displayed an obvious discomfort at their decision to take this route and they should.
The reception of the lead single “Flash Delirium” elicited immediate apologies from the crew as many fans and critics alike voiced their displeasure. The song screams 60’s psychedelic while carrying whispers of David Bowie. I swear I heard some late 70’s Ron Wood in there too, but that could just be me. It slows down then speeds up then turns left then turns right. Even in that exhaustive state, it’s still one of the best songs on the LP.
The respect that the duo shows for British musicians, Dan Treacy of Television Personalities and Brian Eno of Roxy Music come complete with post-punk bass meanderings and even hints of British accents. “Someone’s Missing,” breathes new life into old Bee Gees vocal arrangements as the cryptic lyrics bemoan the façade of the pair’s new superspectacular poplife.
“Siberian Breaks” is the centerpiece of the album. Even though it’s long as hell (a little under 12 minutes) it takes you down an interesting pop timeline with the last few decades of music represented. There are several breaks after which the song reformulates itself as something completely different. This reminds me of many of the rock bands popular in the 60’s who just played till they were played out and if you couldn’t hang, you knew where the door was.
Then there is “Lady Dada’s Nightmare.” The beginning really does sound like a part of a score from a 70’s horror movie; the calm before the storm. Then the storm comes, and the song takes an ominous turn, complete with wailing and scary strings. Considering the title, I’m assuming this is a symbol of how much superstardom really sucks. Of course, the remedy for that is to quit, not make another album, but what do I know?
They close with the title track. “Congratulations” is yet more lament of the world they now inhabit; a story of disconnection and discomfort. It’s obvious this pair isn’t exactly thrilled with their newfound poplarity, hence this way over the top, trippy, psycho surfer acid ride down the dark side of fame; packaged as their sophomore release
Is MGMT alienating its fan base? Possibly. It’s not the cool electro-soul of “Electric Feel” or the digital hubris of “Time to Pretend.” Not even close. This is a step into a much more thoughtful realm; maybe too thoughtful. It’s a nod to obscurity and a melting pot of style. There are awesome moments, but those may be more chance that contrived. This is one of those rare releases that could possibly age like wine, but as of right now, the potential for disaster is much stronger.
out of 5
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