MGMT - the Brooklyn duo of Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden - scored a surprise hit with its tongue-in-cheek debut "Oracular Spectacular" and its sly, but gorgeous, rock-star cautionary tale "Time to Pretend."
Apparently, the Grammy-nominated success of that song - where they die choking on their own vomit after divorcing their models-for-wives - made them feel like they were being too subtle about their worries about fame. Now, MGMT is back with "Congratulations" (Columbia), which is filled with odd tributes, inside jokes (the provocatively named instrumental "Lady Dada's Nightmare," for example) and decidedly more difficult songs, including a trippy, 12-minute epic "Siberian Breaks." In fact, Goldwasser even took the unusual step of apologizing for the weirdness of the album's first single, "Flash Delirium," a psychedelic swirl of styles that sounds like Ray Davies writing a Broadway musical fever dream.
Instead of cooking up "Kids Part Deux" for "Congratulations," MGMT offers the wild-eyed zaniness of "Brian Eno," a poppy rave-up drenched in spooky synths that surround some lyrical gems. ("You can tell that he's kind of smug, what does he know?" they offer. "We're always one step behind him - Brian Eno!") It all feels like a setup for "Congratulations' " title track, which sounds like a countrified Pink Floyd number adorned with synth burbles and strings of music-business doublespeak.
The biggest surprise of all is that the anti-hit rebellion actually works well for MGMT. Maybe we shouldn't offer congratulations, though. They'd probably prefer we keep it our little secret.
The grade: B+
Bottom line: Succeeding at fleeing widespread success