Where This Meets That
On third listen to MGMT’s self-titled new album, I have really got to hand it to them . . . but more on that later.
In 2007, their ambitious and handsomely over-produced debut Oracular Spectacular totally hooked me. Their story of apparent accidental success with a hit album, however, had me braced for it to be a fluke. I was thrilled, therefore, when they served up such a solid encore with their 2010 follow-up, Congratulations.
Both albums featured a rare blend of youthful exuberance and hallucinatory vision anchored in cleverly arranged, coherent melodies. The music on both was experimental and fresh but also catchy and oddly fun, so I have eagerly anticipated their third act, called MGMT, which finally hit the streets this week.
MGMT overreaches its predecessors in its sonic experimentation, but it does so at a price.
It plays almost like two album sides. Its first half strikes a fairly strong balance between melody and experimentation, delivering the band’s trademark psychedelic pop as charmingly as ever. The opening track, “Alien Days” would have fit right in on either of the first two albums, while “Introspection” plays like an outtake from the band’s Yo Gabba Gabba turn. Its second half, however, generally unravels in muddy noise and droning, disconnected vocals.
That MGMT tumbles through the proverbial looking-glass after the album’s “radio song”, “Your Life is a Lie”, lends certain artistic license to a concept, but I’m not sure the final run of songs is strong enough to stand on artistic merit alone.
Britney Spears once told Entertainment Weekly, “Anyone can sit down and write some boring artistic song. Pop music is the hardest s*** to write.” As I said at the start, I really have to hand it to MGMT here, because they have done the impossible: they have made me actually reflect on something Britney Spears said!
MGMT’s brilliance is their ability to craft tremendous pop music into art. Most of this album’s second half sounds a bit like giving up. Songs like “Astro-Mancy” and “I Love You Too, Death” seem to steep insufficiently developed song ideas in noise to compensate for craftsmanship.
I cheer MGMT’s desire to step forward with their passion for experimentation, but three albums in, I would hope for a little more sophistication rather than pure indulgence. MGMT certainly has its moments, even among its dissolving second half, but it ultimately suffers for its agnosticism toward melody.