Saturday 24 March 2018

Music: MGMT * * *

Congratulations (Columbia)

John Meagher

John Meagher

One can only imagine the anguish MGMT are causing the top brass at Sony. First, principal members Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser tell every interviewer they meet that their new album contains no singles.

Then, following the inevitable leak, the duo make the album freely available for streaming purposes on their website -- "we wanted to offer it as a free download but that didn't make sense to anyone but us". Funny that.

After shifting more than a million copies of their debut album, Oracular Spectacular, their record company were no doubt hoping that this follow-up record would do similar business, but the Brooklyn band seem to have little interest in courting those turned onto their music thanks to a handful of irresistible singles. And their assertion that Congratulations is chart-unfriendly may well prove prophetic. There's nothing here to match the irresistible pop pedigree of Kids or Time to Pretend -- the twin calling cards that moved MGMT out of the indie ghetto and into the living room of Paul McCartney, an avowed fan.

Their winning pop sensibility has been usurped by wilful experimentalism that's bound to test their more fickle followers. What will they make of the 12-minute Siberian Breaks, a truly bizarre number that defies characterisation? Within its run time, it boasts a stretch that's both lush and lovely, but it certainly won't be troubling the radio playlist people, particularly as it feels as though several different songs have been rolled into one.

Their show in Dublin last month suggested the new album would be a very different animal to their first. One of the songs aired, It's Working, sounded especially good live and reminded me of early REM. The recorded version is far more indebted to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and is elevated above the ordinary by bursts of Beach Boys-like harmonisation, which -- like several songs here -- features the backing vocals of Jennifer Herrema, former frontwoman of Royal Trux.

It's the track that opens Congratulations, and sets the tone for the psychedelic folk rock that dominates proceedings. Several songs sound like they were recorded circa 1968, not least I Found A Whistle, which ticks all the boxes of psychedelic rock, from the swirling, multi-layered collision of keyboards and guitars to a surfeit of batty, drugged-out lyrics.

Self-indulgence looms large, particularly on Lady Dada's Nightmare -- an instrumental with B-side written all over it -- while other songs remain half-baked; Song for Dan Treacy, an homage to the frontman of 80s survivors The Television Personalities, is a case in point.

The pair are on surer ground with Brian Eno, a catchy, call-and-response punk attack that both celebrates and sneers at the production wizard and is likely to be a favourite on the festival circuit this summer, and they come close to hitting former highs with the synth-heavy Flash Delirium.

The album -- produced by ex-Spacemen 3 member Pete Kember -- may be a more consistent affair than its patchy predecessor, but it still feels slight and ultimately disappointing.

Burn it: It's Working; Flash Delirium

Irish Independent

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