MGMT sacrifices accessibility for critical acclaim
Compared with its 2007 release, “Oracular Spectacular,” Brooklyn-based band, MGMT has definitely traded in its dance vibe for a more foreboding, psychedelic feel.
Where “Spectacular” was more hook-based and upbeat, the self-titled, third album relies heavily on eerie synth and ominous, whispered lyrics that are often buried deep beneath the instrumentals.
From the inception of the band in 2002, MGMT has tackled the bleaker points of life with a sort of cheeky up-tempo. On one of its biggest hits, “Time to Pretend,” the lyrics critique the acquirement of fame and all the stereotypes that go along with it.
“I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life/Let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives…The models will have children, we’ll get a divorce/We’ll find some more models, everything must run its course.”
While this album doesn’t differ from the subject matter listeners are used to, it seems to have let those points sink in. Though slow going, “Introspection,” the fourth track on the album and a Faine Jade cover, develops into an enjoyable and easy pop listen about the disillusionment that comes with growing up sometimes. “Striving for perfection/And hiding when it comes/Seeing its reflection/And the fire it becomes.” The song proves, unfortunately, to be the best on the album.
While I can respect the band’s choice to abandon hooky and straightforward instrumental elements, like it did on its second album, “Congratulations,” I cannot get behind the droning synths that completely drown out the vocals or the choice to add atonal squeaking noises in the background of every song. While the choices are interesting, they aren’t necessarily enjoyable.
This isn’t a new trend the band has stumbled into; it has been going on since the release of “Spectacular.” When MGMT released “Congratulations” after three years of anticipation from fans, the vast majority were disappointed at the complete lack of power in the music. Where “Electric Feel,” a song from “Spectacular,” was intense and the vocals, though not exactly clear, were easy to understand, tracks from “Congratulations” were forgettable, hit and miss, emphasis on the miss. Hardly anyone bought the album and almost all of the feedback was negative. Despite it, none of this seems to have deterred MGMT from making its own brand of psychedelic-pop.
This isn’t an album one would sing along to or put on at a party or even put on in the car with a date as filler for conversation. This is an album made in defiance.
MGMT wants to make music that people will think about and digest, not music they will mindlessly flail around to. As with “Congratulations,” the first listen betrays the listener. As the record plays on once, twice, maybe three times, the themes and clever entendre become more apparent and the tunes more enjoyable. This isn’t a mistake.
David Bowie, after releasing the Top 40 hit “Let’s Dance” in 1983, was seeking to experiment with music on the periphery, so he released the concept album, “Outside,” in 1995 with Brian Eno and shrugged off the fans he had gained back in the ’80s in exchange for critical acclaim and a more interesting, albeit less enjoyable sound. MGMT is seeking this kind of a transformation and sacrificing its fan base to do it.
“MGMT” is a character study in maturation and the wrong way to go about it. Sacrificing the sound that fans have grown to love for a completely shape-shifted and non-committal substitute is no way to gain new followers. The critics may love it, but this one doesn’t.