INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Times APRIL 9, 2010 - by Ed Potton
Are the Brooklyn band taking the moral high ground by refusing to release singles from this album, or are they too lazy?
MGMT's decision not to release any singles from their sophomore album has been much debated. Did it reflect a Led Zeppelin-like insistence on the material standing as one coherent whole? Given that it veers from shrill folk to Flaming Lips psychedelia to Kinks-style knockabout verse, that seems unlikely.
Did it acknowledge a lack of catchy tunes? There's certainly nothing in the realm of Kids, the indie-electro single from 2008 whose wonky fairground synth hook was hummed by mums and even commandeered (without consent) by French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his election campaign.
But anyone who saw the Brooklyn-based band's spectacularly half-arsed appearance at Bestival last September - comfortably one of the worst performances this writer has been subjected to - might offer another explanation: perhaps they just can't be bothered to release any singles.
Such indolence would be in keeping with a career that seems to have been breezily free of hardship. From their hippy upbringing to the liberal Connecticut college where main songwriters Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser met, to their effortlessly massive debut album Oracular Spectacular, MGMT have, as they told The Times recently, had things "a bit too easy". They took to louche sabotage of their success, playing purposely insipid live sets and gleefully denigrating their music. But now, Goldwasser admits, "there's more and more pressure put on the outcome. We have people on our payroll; their security depends on it."
If that's something they're worried about, then this is a perverse way of showing it. The anguished caterwauling of Lady Dada's Nightmare could only have been intended to irk, while on Brian Eno and Song For Dan Treacy (which refers to the frontman of the post-punk band Television Personalities), the band parade their influences like posters plastered on college dorm walls. As for the deadpan references to "Fifteen centuries of dissolution and grief" in I Found a Whistle... not in Connecticut, buddy.
But persevere past the pretentiousness and there's real songcraft at work, most magnificently in Siberian Breaks, the album's epic centrepiece. A twelve-minute monster that moves from sun-bleached harmonies to harpsichord balladry to falsetto rock to rippling electronica, it's the anti-Kids, something mums will never hum. "I hope I die before I get sold," trills VanWyngarden, positioning himself as a Pete Townshend for the franchise era.
We get the message: they're not going to give people what they want, just as they refused to play Kids on their recent London date. That's fine if they give us something better, such as Siberian Breaks. But do they really need all the nose-thumbing and pseudo Dadaism?
Why not more like the woozy acoustic title track, a response to the cosseting and vacuous praise that surround a twenty-first-century rock band? "I've got someone to make reports / That tell me how my money's spen / To book my stays and draw my blinds / So I can't see what's really there / And all I need's a great big congratulations," sings VanWyngarden, followed by a round of ironic applause. It's wry and beautiful. And it would have made a great single.