Album Reviews

MGMT – Loss Of Life

(Mom + Pop) UK release date: 23 February 2024

A whole new chapter for a band whose value to pop music is only now becoming properly clear

MGMT - Loss Of Life If you have seen the much-vaunted Saltburn, you will have noted how the pop music it uses has been returned to cultural awareness. Inevitably the first song that comes to mind is Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Murder On The Dancefloor, but the film also reminded us of the genius of MGMT, through the use of the duo’s heady debut single Time To Pretend. One of their trademark songs, it has been given a timely nudge as the duo return with their fifth album, the first in six years.

Much has changed since then, of course, but MGMT – now free of major label ties – deserve their return to the limelight, the duo’s long-playing canon full of interesting and sometimes daring moves that have largely paid off. Here they are positively sanguine, inhabiting a warmer climate than predecessor Little Dark Age, whose starker approach was nonetheless a cathartic release for the duo. Indeed, its title track was a massive hit on TikTok during the pandemic. Now the scene has shifted, both Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser have moved into their 40s, where they describe the new record as “20% adult contemporary”, or “Sleepless In Seattle directed by Paul Schrader”. With production slots for Daniel Lopatin (better known as Oneohtrix Point Never), James Richardson and a cameo from Danger Mouse, they retain their thirst for musical exploration, also making room for the first major guest slot on an MGMT record, from Christine And The Queens.

Their encounter, the brilliant Dancing In Babylon, is an early highlight, a song about a couple called Catherine and Bobby. It has strong support, for the band’s easy delivery serves them well through some typically darker lyrics. “Something is blocking the light, but it’s alright”, sings VanWyngarden on People In The Streets. Nothing Changes has deep considerations, but there is an ambling gait in spite of the observation “I should change, I shouldn’t be here,” its introspection masked by a bittersweet trumpet melody. “It was time to stop pretending,” is the resolve.

Phradie’s Song, about VanWyngarden’s young daughter, becomes a beautiful end-of-day lullaby, its dappled sunlight throwing shapes and colours to match the warm glow of early parenthood. Mother Nature basks in a similarly blissful warmth, also felt through People In The Streets and Bubblegum. The latter captures the principal stylistic influences of the album, which appears to have had a long look at the colours and psychedelia of late-1960s pop. MGMT emerge from this dazzling light with musical references to Simon & Garfunkel, The Troggs and The Kinks among others, layering their songs with textures the listeners can dive into.

There is no radical change from their first four albums, but anyone familiar with MGMT knows that means plenty of musical exploration, a refreshing flick of the fingers up to the norm. There are many lyrical gems, too, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser maintaining their happy knack of writing songs that connect, songs that their listeners will want to hear on repeat. The hallucinatory coda returns us to a dream-like state. While “Nothing prepares you for loss of life,” this is music of acceptance and closure, opening up a whole new chapter for a band whose value to pop music is only now becoming properly clear.

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MGMT – Loss Of Life
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