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Congratulations to MGMT for a Solid Sophomoric Effort

Declan Sullivan | Thursday, April 8, 2010

In less than a week’s time — April 13 to be precise — MGMT’s follow-up to their 2007 hit album “Oracular Spectacular”— suitably named “Congratulations” — will officially be released and available to download legally. That’s not to say that it’s not available now — a well-publicized leak of the album in mid-March prompted the band to release the album in a stream-only format on March 20.
Although members of the group have described the album as a “no-singles album,” one song, “Flash Delirium,” has been released, although it has been described as more a taster for the album than an actual single. Basically, if you like “Flash Delirium,” you’ll like “Congratulations,” and vice versa.  Either way, it’s easy to see that “Congratulations” has little stylistically in common with “Oracular Spectacular.”
Many tracks in “Oracular Spectacular” drove its success and its eventual dominance of many college campuses/stoner circles: “Kids,” “Weekend Warriors,” “Time to Pretend,” “Electric Feel.”
“Congratulations” has none of these; it is a straight-up album’s album, meaning that the band meant it to be taken in as a whole rather than as individual tracks.  In listening to the album in its entirety, the first word that comes to mind is duality. “Congratulations” tracks have two different, distinct flavors: First, about half the songs have a bouncy, upbeat, almost surfer/beach vibe to them — albeit, one distorted with digital production work and what sounds like a harpsichord — and the rest sound inspired by dreams of floating through psychedelic clouds in a world without time or purpose. While the two different sounds at times cause jarring moments in the changes between tracks, for the most part the format works, and MGMT somehow manages to take two songs that sound very little alike and tie them together in a way that makes some sense in the context of the album. Viewed in the “no-singles album” light, MGMT succeeds and has come out with a good — but not great — sophomore effort.
The only problem with this is that the vast majority of MGMT fans became fans by listening to their pop-infused songs from “Oracular Spectacular,” and these fans will be disappointed with this album. Again, to stress the point, there are no singles on this album. “Flash Delirium” is not a real single, nor does it sounds like it. It has more in common with the progressive rock of the 70s or the OC soundtrack — beach music —than MGMT’s previous work. This is a problem, because while there are people out there who will be fans of the eclectic mix of musical genres and feels, there are many more who will not be, and it is largely fans from the latter group that fueled MGMT’s success.
“Congratulations” is a good album to just put on and zonk out to for about 45 minutes. While it does have some flaws, it still is a good album and worth a listen; however, if the listener goes into the album expecting a spiritual successor to “Oracular Spectacular,” he will be sorely disappointed.  MGMT went out on a limb for their sophomore effort, and while many fans of their more pop tunes will probably not enjoy this, those who can listen to it with an open mind will find a worthwhile experience.