The story began when the Brooklyn duo released Flash Delirium on their website as a sneak preview of the album – and the band’s fans were not impressed. Internet forums creaked under the weight of opprobrium, and the band ended up giving an interview in which they explained that Congratulations was to be less commercial, even to the point of having no singles released from it.
From this furore, you may expect an hour or so of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden scratching their fingers down a blackboard over the sound of puppies being merrily slaughtered in a nearby room. Yet, while this is certainly a challenging record, it’s hardly Metal Machine Music we’re talking about here.
The band are right that there’s no obvious single on the album though – that in itself is something of a shock considering the sheer ubiquity of Time To Pretend, Kids and Electric Feel. There’s a 12 minute track which sounds like four different songs all recorded at once, and tributes to such diverse figures as Brian Eno and Dan Treacy of cult post-punk band Television Personalities. Most of it is likely to leave the casual fan scratching their head.
But let’s not forget that MGMT have always dabbled in the unconventional. A quick listen to Oracular Spectacular, beyond the well-known tracks, will confirm that. So, in a way, Congratulations could be seen as a natural progression from their debut.
It certainly starts off well, with the urgent ’60s vibe of It’s Working, which swoops and swirls around most agreeably. Repeated listens reveal more of its charms, which goes for many of the other tracks too.
Flash Delirium, the song that caused so much uproar on the blogs, does appear to meander around with no discernable tune on first listen. Yet after a few plays, the eerie atmosphere worms itself into your brain. Admittedly, it’s still very difficult to sing along to, but just perhaps that’s not the point.
There are certainly times where Congratulations becomes just far too silly for its own good. The tinny garage rock of Brian Eno is just ridiculous, telling the tale of chasing the legendary record producer around a forest, while the less said about Lady Dada’s Nightmare, a nightmarish cousin of Pink Floyd‘s The Great Gig In The Sky, the better.
Ironically, considering all the pre-release controversy, the most satisfying moment here is probably the most ambitious – the 12-minute Siberian Breaks. It’s almost genre-defying, consisting of about 12 different types of songs, beginning all wistful and folky, before taking in spacey psychedelia and glam rock before nodding over at Fleetwood Mac and tipping its hat to The Flaming Lips before drowning in a sea of synths. Like they said: no obvious singles here.
In essence, this isn’t a commercial suicide note a la Robbie Williams‘ Rudebox. Instead, it’s a brave, sometimes successful, but ultimately flawed attempt to evolve and grow the band’s sound. The one crime is a distinct lack of any memorable tunes, but it will certainly stand as one of 2010’s more interesting releases.