Occasionally, a band you've never heard of makes a big splash, begging the question, Who is that? MGMT is one of those bands. The group founded by Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Martin Goldwasser was nominated for two Grammys this year. Still, most people have never heard of MGMT. So how did the band's second album, Congratulations, debut at an impressive No. 2?
Credit probably goes to the way the band has marketed its singles, which have been heard on television shows such as The Vampire Diaries, 90210, Gossip Girl, The Beautiful Life and Yo Gabba Gabba, as well as in the movies Whip It, Sex Drive, 21, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People and in a promotional trailer for Alice in Wonderland.
Sound-wise, Congratulations feels like a trip back to the '60s. Lush harmonized vocals recall The Byrds and The Moody Blues, while arrangements embody a hazy, psychedelic vibe. Trying to pin down MGMT's exact genre, though, isn't easy. On the band's MySpace page there's this label: "Healing & Easy Listening/Soul." And over on Wikipedia, fans have described the band as "neo-psychedelia, new wave, synthpop."
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Isolated lines counsel determination in a confusing world. On "Song for Dan Treacy," someone is "gonna listen to his soul." A struggler on "Flash Delirium" intends to keep holding on ("My earthbound heart is heavy/Your heartbeat keeps things light/ … Even if this hall collapses/I can stand by my pillar of hope and trust"). We hear a passing reference to the biblical idea that "we reap what we sow" on "Brian Eno."
Most of the album's lyrics, however, aren't positive or problematic. Instead, they're vaguely philosophical ramblings about not finding what you're looking for. These lyrics from "It's Working," for example, are representative: "Here, you focus/So I can see your faces/The eyes are wrong/How will I know if it's working right?/Light confuses/The tiny isle of bruises."
Still, the band's perspective on life is mostly devoid of hope. "You can't get a grip if there's nothing to hold," we hear on "Flash Delirium." Similar sentiments turn up on "Siberian Breaks" ("If you're conscious you must be depressed/Or at least cynical"). No wonder the singer says later, "I hope I die before I get sold" and suggests, "Pass me the joint." That song also posits that heroism is no match for death ("There's no reason, there's no secret to decode/If you can't save it/Leave it dying on the road"). Love is an illusion on "It's Working" ("Love is only in your mind/And not in your heart").
There's a vulgar and extremely demeaning description of a woman on "Flash Delirium." The song also mentions "the clean magazine chick lifting up her skirt." Two uses of "d‑‑n" and one of "a‑‑" turn up on the title track.
Myplay.com described MGMT's first album as "an enigmatic and prophetic collection of hallucinatory sounds." Now, I don't know about the "prophetic" part, but I'm hard-pressed to come up with better adjectives than "enigmatic" and "hallucinatory" to describe the second one.
I suspect that the opaque lyrical proceedings, many of which strive for a philosophical gravitas, have meaning for the band. Without a secrete decoder ring, though, I'm left to focus on the things that are clear: irony and futility devolving into a detached shrug, accompanied by mild profanities, a rancid expression and an approving nod to marijuana use.