WHEN MGMT (Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser) made their die-young, stay-pretty decry on "Time to Pretend"—the opening number of the flawless Oracular Spectacular—it resonated as a landmark moment in this current age of insatiable digital culture. Their lyrics spoke of fame, cocaine, and models with harmless naivety, but their day-glo onstage personalities and neon garb still weren't enough to distract us from the truth: This pair of Wesleyan graduates were little more than a couple of dorks playing rock 'n' roll dress up. MGMT's compiled lot of haphazardly assembled influences was a glorious mess of dance floor inhibition, ambitious pop hooks, and most importantly of all, just plain fun. As they put it in "Time to Pretend," "This is our decision, to live fast and die young/We've got the vision, now let's have some fun."
Their Brooklyn peers in Vampire Weekend were defending their African colonization pop, and Yeasayer was stuck attempting to seize the art-rock crown from atop the pillowy afro of TV on the Radio. Meanwhile, MGMT soared past their borough mates, selling over three million song downloads from Oracular, spawning a handful of legitimately great singles, and cementing the carefree duo as the next great rock 'n' roll hope.
But as all cautionary tales go, MGMT should have been careful what they wished for. When you innocently sing about the Behind the Music trifecta of fame/drugs/money, you might actually get exactly that. As rumors and early leaks hinted that their sophomore recording—not including their demo LP Climbing to New Lows—was doomed to fail, the band's infallibility began to corrode.
Everything about the bloated mass that makes up their latest, Congratulations, is a soul-crushing disappointment. The cracked foundation began with the axing of Oracular's producer, Dave Fridmann (a man whose very name is synonymous with quality recordings), in favor of Peter Kember (AKA Sonic Boom), the burnt husk that remains from the Spaceman 3 divorce. But even this misstep—coupled with the band's respectable urge to become more than just a pop band with a gold record and Gucci-inspired clothing line (seriously)—could have been overlooked had MGMT's artistic urges not come across as cumbersome odes to pastoral folk and '60s rock experimentalism. They wanted Forever Changes, but instead they got Tusk (and this coming from a Fleetwood Mac apologist who actually adores that record, flaws and all).
It's not that Congratulations is merely a terrible record—it really is, never forget that—but MGMT's restless experimentation comes off not as bold attempts at artistic relevance, but as middling, drug addled, and completely unnecessary. The dizzy carnival organ of "Song for Dan Treacy" can't save a lopsided song, and their ode to "Brian Eno" might just be the worst musical atrocity linked to the iconic man's name—yes, even worse than his work with Coldplay and Natalie Imbruglia.
No one is quite sure who to blame for the bloated stoner excess that permeates Congratulations (see: the dozen-plus minutes of "Siberian Breaks," a song that should be trimmed by at least eight minutes), whether it be the band members, Kember's influence, or their newfound obsession with Royal Trux (between Sonic Boom and Trux, the young men of MGMT are not good at picking responsible role models). The band itself eventually threw up their hands, issuing an apology for the trainwreck lead single "Flash Delirium," and Goldwasser summed up the collective opinion of countless baffled fans in an interview with the Guardian: "We don't know why anyone let us do this." Neither do we.