In directly opposite fashion of Oracular Spectacular, the sure-to-be-oft-compared debut album from MGMT, Congratulations is, at many points, a challenging listen. From the very beginning surf-rock guitar progressions of “It’s Working”, the album presents us with a doppelganger of sorts. Gone are the radio-friendly electro-pop tunes, and in its place are succinctly played, somewhat fractured nuggets of quirky psych-rock.
This isn’t uncommon for the major sophomore release to take an entirely different path than its predecessor, and in many instances its encouraged for the group to not simply create a vague facsimile of the original. But since much of the band’s fan base comes from enjoying their specific brand of music, there are definitely risks inherent to producing a strange new record.
I almost couldn’t believe I was listening to the same “Time To Pretend” and “Kids” MGMT of a couple years ago until the end of the third track, “Someone’s Missing”, when the familiar falsettos and funky guitars finished off an otherwise minimally-accompanied two minutes of song. Clearly, MGMT understand the risks involved, as Ben Goldwasser even apologized for the less-than-favorable public reaction to “Flash Delirium”, a free mp3 from the album that was released early by the band. However polite an apology may be, the music speaks for itself, making the “sorry-we’re-trying-something-new” entirely unnecessary.
And no matter how different the material is, it still smacks of brilliance. Tracks like “Song For Dan Treacy”, with its abrupt key-changes, organ-led hooks and the way it’s all nicely threaded together in the end, demonstrate the consummate mastery that MGMT has over their compositions. This is translated to an even more epic scale on “Siberian Breaks”, the 12-minute opus of the record that smashes together an almost spaghetti-western-style acoustic riff and a colorful burst of electronic music in between ethereal, multi-layered choruses with psychedelic instrumental breaks, enough to make Gruff Rhys a very jealous man. Then there’s the instrumental “Lady Dada’s Nightmare”, a song (described in a tongue-in-cheek manner by the band) about sex with Lady Gaga. And really, who cares what the song’s about, it’s just another cool piece of a bizarre and wonderful puzzle.
No one wants to make a disappointing, bland second album, the same way no one wants to make a clichéd album about their sudden fame as a band. MGMT have tackled both of these head-on, and with the same clever sense of humor they employed from the beginning. On this note, they end their record with, “You pay attention for me/As strange as it seems/I’d rather dissolve than have you ignore me”, a proverbial wink and a nod to their fans and critics. The irony in their lyrics reaches farther than this album, as these are the sort of records that will keep the people coming back for more, whether MGMT expect it or not.