Monday, April 12, 2010
Rating: **** (4/10)
In 2008, the trend of rich college kids making trashy hipster pop reached its zenith (though sadly, that sun has not yet set) and suddenly Wesleyan duo MGMT crashed on to the scene, a little too late. Their trashy hipster pop was unabashedly trash, throw-away psychedelic synth hits catchy enough to land the band on Sony/Columbia well before their full-length debut. But somehow, despite all of this, the band had some appeal, some hint of integrity that their fellow spoiled-East-Coat-collegiate-douchebag bands lacked.
I guess it's because MGMT seemed to be gaming the system. They were snagging serious bucks from the major label machinery on behalf, it seemed, of smart-ass indie kids everywhere. The whole thing had the air of a colossal prank. The band certainly reinforced this by doing things such as suing the president of France for unauthorized use of their songs, then donating the settlement monies to legal aid for artists (I'm getting this from Reuters).
But the band's attitude and ability to not take themselves at all seriously wasn't the only thing that made them worthy of note. None of use would have heard of them and they never would have had these opportunities if their songs weren't so damn catchy. Sure, they're cheap pop songs, but they are near-perfect cheap pop songs that dare you not to like them. If someone tells you they don't like "Kids," they are probably lying.
And this is where Congratulations fails. It explicitly forgoes any attempt at singles. Big mistake. Singles are exactly what MGMT did right. The new album lacks melodies and more generally, lacks focus. It's a random, half-assed jumble of psychedelic ideas. Selecting producer Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember can't have helped the band either - based on my encounters with Kember, I'm perpetually surprised he hasn't died of an O.D. yet. He's certainly not going help anyone make judgment calls or edit themselves.
MGMT are still cool guys and they still know their music is garbage - and for that, I will always respect them. However, bland and nebulous, Congratulations isn't even worth a listen. There are better ways to spend 45 minutes.