I Meant To Listen To: MGMT, “Congratulations”

Most of us should know what we were doing during the mid-2000s, right? It was a glorious time filled with Guitar Hero, Four Loko, Ed Hardy, and Dane Cook. A time where I saw my beloved Boston Celtics and Red Sox win championships – something I swore would NEVER happen in my lifetime. To be honest, most of this decade came and went in a blur. I attempted to do more adult things, like purchase a home, but did things that may have been irresponsible, like furnish said home with a Jagermeister tap machine. The fact that I got through it relatively unscathed is a minor miracle.

It was also a period of time where much of my music discoveries didn’t come from MTV or commercial radio. In fact, most of us were doing what we could to rebel against that, thanks to a boom in social media. What Napster had started earlier would lead to MySpace and YouTube, literal game changers. It’s hard to even imagine a YouTube-less world today.

Another emerging source of discovering new music was its inclusion in video games. Games like Grand Theft Auto, the Madden franchise, and the aforementioned Guitar Hero exposed countless individuals to music they might have never otherwise heard of. While playing Midnight Club: Los Angeles I discovered MGMT. The remix version of “Electric Feel” was one of my main go-to’s when I would play that game poorly and quit twenty minutes later. Because of that game, I went out and purchased their first album, Oracular Spectacular.

Oracular Spectacular was one of those albums that truly defined a decade. Loaded with three monster hits (“Electric Feel”, “Time To Pretend”, “Kids”, the unavoidable song that summer – and a truly awful music video), it seemed obvious that MGMT were the psychedelic pop saviors this world needed. 2010’s Congratulations had the makings of catapulting the group into the stratosphere.

Except it didn’t.

I remember downloading Congratulations the day it came out and geared up for a run. After lacing up my Sauconys, I headed out the door with “It’s Working” blasting on my iPod. After skipping around that album for quite a bit, I just couldn’t get into it. More like, “It isn’t Working”, right? Admittedly, I was chasing after that poppy ear candy that I thought MGMT was all about.

Except it wasn’t.

It took me many, many years to appreciate the left turn that was Congratulations. I could not imagine the pressure Ben Goldwasser and Andrew VanWyngarden might have felt to try to create luscious, yet easily-digestible and safe psychedelic synth pop on their second effort. That’s pretty much an impossible task to tackle. Instead, what MGMT created was an album that’s both exploratory and sorta claustrophobic in many ways, as exemplified when the 12-minute epic “Siberian Breaks” concludes and leads into the punchy “Brian Eno“.

Sure, it might not be alt-rock radio friendly, but, “Song For Dan Treacy” is a fun, retro-futuristic romp into madness that has now appreared in quite a few playlists of mine after rediscovering this album. “Flash Delirium” has flashes (pun intended) of LCD Soundsystem at their most hectic.

I have always appreciated what MGMT has created, especially 2018’s Little Dark Age, but there is just something about Congratulations that continues to evolve nearly a decade after its release. It honestly took me a few albums to help me go back and realize just how massively talented and fearless MGMT were and still are. If anything, Congratulations is reminder to never compromise on your vision, regardless of how much popularity you could gain upfront.

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