Back in January, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser said that the new MGMT album, Congratulations, was not going to have any standout single material, and would be more of a complete body of songs. Despite this, Flash Delirium was released three months later as a free download, a "taster" for the new album, they called it. Fans went in groves to give it a listen, and for the most part promptly hated it, flooding internet forums and voicing their disapproval. Much of the discontent came from the simple fact that it didn't sound like the smash hit singles from their debut as MGMT, Oracular Spectacular, even though the band themselves had said that this was not what to look for. Thankfully, the track, and Congratulations overall, seems to have grown on the fans for the most part, and rather deservedly at that. While the Brooklyn duo's sophomore effort is a notable shift from their earlier work, resembling the Flaming Lips song they contributed to last year a great deal more than Oracular, it's still a fantastic record with interesting takes on several sixties-prominent genres.
It's hard to sympathize with fans who are unhappy with the more sixties informed sound on Congratulations, as they obviously weren't really listening to the bulk of Oracular Spectacular. Psychedelia has always been a large part of the duo's sound, and now that it has come to the forefront, it brings a slightly different type of pop approach with it. The hooks are still brilliant, recalling the best of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, and even The Beatles circa 1967 with their echo slathered melodies and contrasting note progressions. It's even been given a touch of camp as well (the organ on Song for Dan Treacy, for instance), which gives it all the more charm.
Congratulations' momentum runs strong from its beginning to its peak, with the twelve minute (and amazingly listenable) Siberian Breaks, a jumble of at least six different songs strung along together, each distinctive but morphing into one another seamlessly. The track has an incredible smoothness to it, managing to keep itself immersing all throughout, always quite a feat for such a long song. Breaks is almost a microcosm of the album containing it, with not only the style but fantastic flow mirroring that of Congratulations on the whole. It's Working and Dan Treacy are paired wonderfully, exhibiting the blends of surf rock and British invasion psychedelia that VanWyngarden and Goldwasser have adopted. Flash Delirium has the most reminiscence of the alternative dance style largely left behind, with fuzzy synths backing the flute solos and organs, which is probably why it was the track released as a preview of the album last month. Delirium is packed with great hooks (which makes the backlash it received all the more baffling), and builds up to an intense climax in which the song crashes into the next track, the lovely and somber I Found a Whistle.
This is where Congratulations stumbles slightly. Brian Eno and the closing title track have considerably weaker melodies, with the latter sounding almost like a watered down B-side from Oracular. Lady Dada's Nightmare is one of those songs best described as more interesting than actually good, sounding like The Flaming Lips covering an early Pink Floyd instrumental, and taking plenty of artistic liberties. It's a well crafted instrumental, and certainly fits in with the album's mood, but just can't live up to the more tastefully imaginative first six songs. Someone's Missing, for example - the third cut - has the same issue as these three in that it's simply not very compelling. The reason it still works is because it's only two and a half minutes, and doesn't have a chance for the melody to wear out its appeal. The ending trio each last at least four minutes, which gives ample time to reveal just how shaky they are.
The sixties psychedelia sound is tackled wonderfully here, and while Congratulations slumps towards the end and gives a somewhat weak finish, the first two thirds are chock full of outstanding moments, with great hooks thrown left and right and masterfully handled momentum. For a band with a widely hailed debut album, a sophomore slump is even more difficult to avoid. And while this isn't exactly a masterpiece, it's extremely successful on those grounds alone.