Key Tracks: “Your Life Is a Lie,” “Plenty of Girls in the Sea”
With their 2007 debut, “Oracular Spectacular,” MGMT burst onto the scene with mainstream experimentation that hadn’t been seen since the Talking Heads. More conventional than Animal Collective and giddier than Radiohead, MGMT showed the world that experimental pop could be popular while still being ‘weird.’ What the band struggled with after, though, was following it up. Refusing to make an album as catchy as their debut, they released 2010′s confusing and inconsistent “Congratulations.” And now, in 2013, we have a self-titled album that regrettably fits in between the two. “MGMT” has the more conventional natures of their debut without the catchiness, and the abstract qualities of “Congratulations” without any of the fun tonal shifts.
“MGMT” is the band’s first structured and consistent record, and it works nicely as a whole listen. Their first two albums were designed around enjoying tracks individually, while “MGMT” is almost only listenable as a full album. The transitions between songs aren’t as rough as their previous albums, as songs more represent differing pieces of a whole instead of standalone tracks. Individually, though, the songs lack the goofiness and urgency that their other albums enjoy. “Congratulations” was too confusing and too messy, but the energetic “Flash Delirium” is still one of the most fun four and a half minute songs out there. There’s no energy on “MGMT,” evidenced by the frustratingly mid-tempo opener, “Alien Days.” Every song wallows in synth-heavy rhythms, without actually having catchy hooks. The far and away catchiest track is “Plenty of Girls in the Sea,” which doesn’t come until the penultimate spot. There are certain spots, like the nearly six minute “I Love You Too, Death” where the band takes some time to actually develop something musically, but they’re few and far between.
One of the strongest points of both “Oracular Spectacular” and “Congratulations” was the clarity of the vocals, no matter what crazy melodies were happening behind it. Here, the vocals are intentionally buried behind distortion, taking more inspiration from Lightning Bolt than Elvis Costello. It’s very easy to ignore the vocals and take your focus away from the often interesting lyrics.
“MGMT” would have been the logical transition between the band’s first two albums, had it come out earlier. Now, it just sounds like a weird conglomerate that takes the faults of both albums. It’s not a bad record, but it just feels rushed and distant. The individual songs all sound a little too similar, and none of them are catchy enough to be hits nor experimental enough to be worthy of the MGMT name. The band should be praised for constantly experimenting off what their last record was, but nearly every part of “MGMT” just feels dull and underprepared.
If you like this, try: Animal Collective’s superb 2012 album, “Centipede Hz”