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One Track Mind: MGMT – “Flash Delirium”

Editor’s Note: To the right is one of the most hideously obnoxious album covers ever, for MGMT’s upcoming release Congratulations.

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MP3: MGMT – Flash Delirium from upcoming LP Congratulations

I never really liked MGMT’s first album, Oracular Spectacular, but I’d be lying if I said its three singles (“Time to Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel”) didn’t approach guilty-pleasure status. What surprised me more was how the band’s Idiot’s Guide to Psych Pop approach managed to reel in a lot of my friends who wouldn’t ordinarily get into music this, well, weird.

I still can’t figure out why this happened. Having a very danceable beat certainly helps, and in that age-old pursuit of getting the opposite sex on the dance floor, MGMT seemed to work as effectively as “Party in the USA” or the latest Lady GaGa track. Despite the lack of any surface-level similarities,  it wasn’t unusual to hear such a pairing when I was out with said friends in Federal Hill (don’t crucify me). And sure enough, people danced. But I don’t think that entirely explains why this band was so universally appealing. To me, it’s still a mystery.

At the time, I thought their crossover success could be a good thing, like it would serve as some sort of gateway to enlightenment and much better music. Surely people could find bands with similar sonic elements to MGMT but much more complex arrangements and the light bulb would go off. In my own little circle, that didn’t really happen.

Now I can only imagine how my friends will react to the train wreck that is “Flash Delirium,” the first single off the band’s sophomore album, Congratulations. Essentially, the band took any redeeming qualities they once had (however few), and any good will they had earned from a living organism with a working pair of ears, stabbed them with a dull butter knife and then pissed all over what was left. We better hope some higher-up at the Pentagon doesn’t get a hold of this and ship it off to Guantanamo, because it will easily become the most effective torture device ever. [/snarky hyperbole]

But really, one can only imagine what the band was thinking when they sat down to write this, somehow thought it was worth recording and then, defying all sense of reason, released it into the world. There should have been red flags all throughout the process signaling the time to torpedo the track once and for all.

Oh wait, there were. MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser told Spinner recently: “When we first wrote that song, we were laughing so hard. Andrew [VanWyngarden] just reminded me of that — that we thought it was the funniest thing we’d ever heard.”

Okay, Ben, glad to know your ear drums are still intact. So why make the rest of us suffer?

“And then we got used to it, it started to sound more normal.”

It did? Really? How many opiates did you have to consume to reach that conclusion?

“It’s not a single, but we thought it was a good way to entice people to listen to the whole record.”

Seriously?! This?!

“I’m sure there are plenty of people who think it’s completely weird and not what they were expecting. I’m sorry.”

As well you should be. Too late now. Only time to analyze.

Basically, what they tried to do was take all sorts of genres and reference points– from a brief visit to their own electric origins to post-acid Beatles to punk –and cram them all into one 4-minute song. Some of the homages are only 30 seconds or so long. It’s like they tried to create the musical equivalent of that YouTube video about the evolution of dance, only they didn’t bother using any semblance of a chronological order… or transitions that make sense… or good judgment.

You won’t find any of the beats or hooks that endeared them to so many. The end result, if it isn’t already painfully clear, is an incoherent disaster the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a very long time. Everything they tried for, or at least what I think were trying for, didn’t work in any conceivable way.

So why?

Goldwasser said in the interview that the record was a response to the band’s rapid ascent to fame.

“We’re trying to come to grips with that world,” he said. “It’s not our world. We don’t feel comfortable in it. But we didn’t want to make that typical second album either, about fame. So we’re definitely observing it, as opposed to revelling in it.”

Their cure for that uncomfortable feeling, it seems, is to take that world and destroy it– to push everything away that brought it into existence. If the rest of Congratulations is half as bad as “Flash Delirium,” then they will truly get their wish, because the people who loved them before most certainly will not be back.