"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Telegraph APRIL 7, 2010 - by Neil McCormick
That MGMT might be uncomfortable with the limelight should have been obvious from their breakthrough 2009 single Time To Pretend, a sneaky satire in which the world of rock stardom is viewed from the wistful perspective of fantasists who know it will never be theirs. Except it became a zeitgeist anthem and the accompanying album, Oracular Spectacular, shifted more than a million copies. The follow-up might not exactly be an act of self-sabotage, but it veers perilously close in its aura of self-indulgence and self-amusement.
Ben Goldwasser, one half of the New York duo, has taken the unusual step of apologising for the group's new musical direction after fans reacted badly to the lead track, Flash Delirium, an ecstasy comedown anthem that sounds like the Cars on a bad trip and includes a short cack-handed flute solo.
Goldwasser rather lamely explained that when he and partner Andrew VanWyngarden recorded it: "We were laughing so hard, we thought it was the funniest thing we ever heard." Indeed, a lot of Congratulations sounds like a band laughing at their own jokes. There are witty but thin homages to musical heroes Dan Treacy of Television Personalities and Brian Eno ("You can tell that he's kind of smug, what does he know? We're always one step behind him - Brian Eno!"), a truly embarrassing prog rock instrumental pastiche Lady Dada's Nightmare and a twelve-minute multi-section acoustic-electro epic, Siberian Breaks, that apparently deliberately evokes the worst traits of Pink Floyd, from Syd Barret whimsy to pompous grandeur.
At times, Congratulations sounds like Flight Of The Conchords attempting a '70s concept album. Yet it is also full of bold strokes of mad musical colour, so crammed with ideas it takes several spins just to get a grip on its sprawling contours. Like fellow travellers in new psychedelia The Flaming Lips, MGMT treat the studio like a children's toybox and never use one instrument where they can squeeze in four. They delight in arrangements that defy convention, tossing a lusty tuba solo in among the harpsichords, spooky synths and choral vocals. Such is their innate sense of melody and supple grooviness, the songs seem to change shape on repeated listens, the best of them (It's Working, Someone's Missing and I Found A Whistle) gradually revealing a hidden seriousness of purpose.
MGMT's desire to avoid the obvious may be admirable but you abandon pop hooks at your peril. Fans will find plenty to sustain them but Congratulations sounds like a deliberate attempt to shake off casual listeners and avoid the rock stardom their hits have granted them.