Reviewing the Reviews: Pitchfork on MGMT’s “Congratulations”

12 04 2010

OK, so I just read Pitchfork’s review of Congratulations, the new MGMT record, and as is often the case with Pitchfork, it doesn’t seem like a “fair review.” I have always had a love/hate relationship with Pitchfork, as do many people, because they have introduced me to some great artists and they take music seriously, but sometimes they let fads and biases and other things get in the way of “sensible reviews.” I would revise my opinion of the Pitchfork Congratulations review to this: the reviewer is very fair re: MGMT’s “political situation, as a band in a crazy blogosphere world with rabid indie-kid wolves clawing at each other and everyone all day everyday for sport”; the reviewer is less fair re: the actual album, whose music and lyrics get no higher compliment than “they didn’t hang themselves here” and “they can write songs.”

That last one is hilarious. “They can write songs.” Understatement of the year. Who among the current mainstream or indie ranks could write “Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel” for their first record? Not to mention “Weekend Wars” and “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters.” Answer: none. They have enviable songwriting talent. They are outrageously inventive in their song structures and musical ideas. Their lyrics are always wonderfully reflective or wonderfully fun or both. People just underestimate them and hate on them because it seems impossible that two dudes fucking around in their dorm room could be this good. But they are! Deal with it!

On to the new album. Here’s how I feel in a nutshell: it’s a wonderful departure, it’s melodic, thoughtful, pretty, ambitious, ’60s-tastic. And Pitchfork should be able to ‘handle’/’comprehend’ intricate, strange, long songs given their track record with other such things by other bands. They seem to have momentarily decided to favor short, ‘manageable’ songs just for this one MGMT review, because otherwise they’d have to dig in to “Siberian Breaks,” give it a few more spins, and stop frontin’ on MGMT (I quite honestly think “Siberian Breaks” sounds like a mixture of Radiohead circa The Bends, The Who circa Tommy (there’s a Who lyric nod with “I hope I die before I get sold” as well), and some other cool ’60s shit—mind you, this song also has lyrics about “chewing the fat,” another Radiohead lyric nod, as well as the great line, “If you’re conscious you must be depressed/or at least cynical”—man, to dismiss this song is lazy musical criticism! damn). Having lots of musical ideas in a single song is a great thing—it’s what evolved the Beatles from a rock ‘n roll almost-cover band to a wondrous, mystical lovemachine of music (it’s how Radiohead could come up with a song as epic as “Paranoid Android.”) “Siberian Breaks” is like a 2k10 “A Quick One While He’s Away,” on acid, while surfing in Siberia.

The whole album’s streaming on MGMT’s website, which, if you ask me, seems very Radiohead-ish of them.

Congratulations echoes a bunch of different influences, but it always sounds like MGMT. That’s impressive to me. My favorites are: “Flash Delirium,” which really grew on me the more I listened to the point that I’d call it a masterpiece (not exaggerating), and the video is great; “I Found A Whistle,” which just has a “great feel,” whatever the hell that means, and wonderful lyrics—it’s like a (to me) better version of “The Youth” from their first record; the aforementioned epic, “Siberian Breaks,” which is fabulous musically and lyrically; and “Congratulations,” which is muted, “mature,” and spot-on. MGMT is vintage and new, all at once. Beautiful.

Update: Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune has written a (to me) extremely perceptive review of Congratulations. Wonderfully written.

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One response

15 12 2011
Aurelien Chauveau

Really good review both about Pitchfork and MGMT’s Congratulations (i didn’t like their first album). Nice to see alternative point of view, i really think it’s underrated

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