So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star? Connecticut neo-merry pranksters Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden, aka MGMT, never did. Yet the duo found themselves in that unlikely position regardless as a result of a couple of big hits contained on their 2008 debut Oracular Spectacular. ‘Time To Pretend’s kaleidoscopic meta-pop perfection and the delicious synth hook of ‘Kids’ were certainly memorable in themselves, but they were hardly representative of that album as a whole. Two years later and a muddled follow-up, Congratulations, threatened to derail – probably deliberately – their new-found place in the spotlight.
On their pivotal third record, Messrs van Wyngarden and Goldwasser have re-recruited Dave Fridmann, perhaps most famous for guiding the expansive space-rock of Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. But even with Fridmann at the helm, this resulting LP is something of a curate’s egg. Dense, uneasy psychedelia dominates, and although this isn’t a product of wilfully inaccessible experimentation, neither does it contain much in the way of instant melodies and conventional song structures.
This is what MGMT want. There’s that give-nothing-away album title, and naming individual tracks ‘Cool Song No. 2′ suggests a haughty, barely-disguised contempt for playing record industry games. ‘Your Life Is A Lie’ and the jaunty ‘Plenty of Girls in the Sea’, the album’s shortest songs, are about the closest things to viable singles, but you’d hardly describe them as radio-friendly pop nuggets. If you’ve seen the recent footage of a knowing, disdainful live performance of ‘Your Life Is A Lie’ on the Late Show with David Letterman (an outing with shades of fellow celebrity refuseniks Nirvana‘s iconic Top of The Pops appearance) it seems increasingly clear that MGMT stumbled upon mainstream acceptance a few years ago, rather than actively striving for it.
There are some concessions to a mainstream heritage, though. MGMT takes several cues from the UK’s late 1960s musical landscape, with the wonky, baroque pomp stylings of ‘Introspection’ borrowing from The Kinks‘ ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ and both ‘Astro-Mancy’ and the eerie ‘Mystery Disease’ leaning on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by The Beatles.
So, yes, there are some tunes. But what remains clear is that MGMT are not trying to recapture their early fame, and often trying to actively distance themselves from it. Clearly, any band responsible for the somnambulant likes of ‘A Good Sadness’ and ‘I Love You To Death’ isn’t banking on commercial success. Whether they’ll continue to be indulged by the record-buying public, however, remains to be seen.