Here’s a statement that might shock: MGMT (and Andrew Vanwyngarden in particular) love the 60s. The headbands, the long skirts, the psychedelic videos, Vanwyngarden talking to animals, these sort of things hint that the above statement is true. Ok, maybe the music as well. News that they would team up with Spacemen 3’s Peter Kember for their new album wasn’t much of a shock. Yes, it spawned endless ‘OMG! THIS IS GOING TO BE EPIC”, but it pretty much followed the “60s were all the rage” line. News that Gaga and Kanye influenced Congratulations overshadowed the collaboration. Fear took over and a murmur of “You know, they were great back in the day, these guys, but now… man, I just don’t know what happened to them’. Alas, we all coward behind the mouse before pushing the download button when Flash Delirium was posted on the band’s website.
Luckily, the song’s all-over-the-place atmosphere/instrumental was sign that maybe Gaga and Kanye influenced them in the way that they tried really hard to make an album that could never come close to the mainstream. Insane as it was, Flash Delirium was finger-licking delicious. It was Of Moon, Birds and Monsters’ younger, moodier and more paranoid brother. And just so, Congratulations picks up just were Oracular Spectacular has left us. The band is morphing, Andrew’s new found passion (being Dr. Doolittle the white edition) and Peter Kember shape (and influence) the sound is a grand way.
Their influences move from Bowie and Flaming Lips (while still owing a great deal to the two) and come closer in time: It’s Working’s eerie vocals and aural instrumental have a delightful scent of Blonde Redhead. But as soon as you sink into the album, you come to realise the temporal closeness was just a trick. Song For Dan Treacysounds more like The Beatles and the British Invasion, while still anticipating the mood shifts of Flash Delirium. Something’s Missing is so surreal (and a bit too short) you actually think it was a breeze not an actual song. And its blooming, glorious end leaves you craving for more.
Quickly passing by Flash Delirium (for the sole reason that we might get stuck here for several days), we move on to what could just be the most overwhelming song on the entire record, I Found A Whistle. And honestly, you can’t tell what it was that made you sing as loud as you could and maybe made you feel a bit teary. Maybe the incredible acoustic guitar, or the song’s crescendo, or the way Vanwyngarden doesn’t sound (for once) like he’s kidding and being way too ironic for his own good. We’ll just ignore the need for a bonfire and a bunch of hippies singing around it.
And when John isn’t enough, the guys turn to Sean Lennon: Siberian Breaks’ intro sounds awfully like it belongs to Sean Lennon’s Into The Sun. But, like the rest of Congratulations, it’s not really just one thing. It’s trippy but calm. There are mood shifts by the dozen but not for one minute do you get confused or find it hard to follow. It’s Sean for a minute but it could be Leonard Cohen or The Who just as well. Some might go ahead and call it indie-prog but the song defies tags like mad and plays with a diversity of sounds, concepts and musical niches. It shamelessly takes you on a rollercoaster music ride and forces to listen to it from second one to minute 12:09 without even the slightest desire to press next.
While Siberian Breaks ends in what might as well be slow motion, Brian Eno starts like a mad chase. Its alert key shifts add up to the hilarious story and make for one fun future festival anthem. If not, at least the next soundtrack to some Scooby Doo movie. Because we’re in subtle land, MGMT offer us Lady Dada’s Nightmare. Yes, you can think of She-who’s-name-we-must-not-speak. It’s simply haunting (sure, the screams in the back and the though of Gaga’s face help) and has a great progression chord. Just that, somewhere deep inside, you were craving for some lyrics just so you could use them in a random conversation about She-who’s-name-we-must-not-speak.
The album draws to an end, the title song kicks in and it’s something like “Hello, Marc Bolan”. Relaxed as it is, Congratulations is an incredible mix between 70sBowie, T-Rex and contemporary Devendra Banhart. And, for once, instead of the playfulness and edge of youth, MGMT sound mature and deeply melancholic. As the song ends, as you hear the hand clapping, you feel like giving the band a big round of applause. For maybe it is not perfect, but Congratulations is a soulful, fun, boundary-shacking experience. Ever since the debut, we were all sure MGMT had so much more in the bag and with this second album they prove the bag is bottomless. Imagination had no limits and neither do MGMT.