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CD Review: MGMT

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | APRIL 13, 2010 7:30 AM

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** out of *****

In 2007, MGMT released Oracular Spectacular to a surprisingly successful response. Singles “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel” all went on to blast through the speakers of 20-year-olds’ cars all summer long, and the group was nominated for a couple Grammys. To expand on that success, the album received numerous awards, including Rolling Stone naming it as the 18th-best album of the decade.

Pretty tough act to follow, eh? I’d say.

Maybe the members of MGMT, Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, were tired of their success. Maybe the two didn’t want to be played on Top 40 stations anymore. Maybe they just didn’t care about all the crap that comes along with being successful pop artists.

If that’s what they were thinking, they succeeded. Congratulations gives a big middle finger to the sound of the Oracular Spectacular (and anyone who liked it). But, unfortunately, that middle finger reflects backwards as well.

Congratulations is a completely different sound. Listeners looking for new jams for dance parties this summer will be very disappointed, because the new album ventures and explores the sound of the weaker areas of Oracular. Rather than catchy, bouncy hooks, the record channels an ambient, art-rock style with lots of space and room for exploration within each song.

This leaves one to wonder what the hell Goldwasser and VanWyngarden were thinking. There was a reason Jimi Hendrix played guitar. Or why Shakespeare wrote. Or even why the Beatles sang. It’s because they were all geniuses at their crafts.

Not to say that MGMT is the next McCartney/Lennon duo, but, seriously, when you make art (or anything, for that matter), stick to what you’re good at. And what is MGMT good at? Making art-rock? Um, hellooooo — no way.

MGMT makes catchy-as-hell pop songs that are fun to dance and make out to. Why go away from that?

For example, such tracks as “Someone’s Missing” and the 12-minute-long mess of “Siberian Breaks” drag on, and on, and on, and mainly, it’s because the vocals of Goldwasser and VanWyngarden don’t succeed above trippy acoustic guitars. They work when they’re loud, aggressive, and fun. Instead, the duo is trying to be something its not — it’s like Tom Waits trying to sing like Paul Simon. It doesn’t work.

On top of the unsuccessful vocals, Congratulations is just missing something. The energy that made Oracular Spectacular so successful is gone. The entire album feels as though it’s building toward something — making the listeners stay on the edges of their seats, waiting for anything to come. And when it doesn’t, it turns the listeners’ experience from bad to just frustrating and makes them want to throw their headphones out the window.

Now, I’m not looking for another Oracular Spectacular. It’s important for artists to grow and develop themselves in their careers. And God knows, after singing “Time to Pretend” a million times on tour the past few years, MGMT was probably looking for something new. And I admire the two for taking a risk that a lot of their fans probably won’t like. But this new album, even in its rare successful moments (“I Found a Whistle”), just doesn’t work.

Please, for the love of God, MGMT, put away the art-rock and stick to your realm.

Eric’s Picks: MGMT’s first album, Oracular Spectacular.



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