Mosaic / Music / Reviews / February 28, 2008

MGMT mock rock star paradigm

I could say that my favorite thing about MGMT was some aspect of their music, but I’d be lying. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t suffer from a dearth of interesting musical facets, but my favorite thing about them has to be their perspective on the music business, which boils down to a recognition that stardom isn’t what it used to be, but that they don’t really mind. The opener “Time to Pretend” croons “Let’s make some music/make some money/find some models for wives.” and goes on to mock the old rock star paradigm of cocaine and Ferraris, but they still sound a bit wistful that this lifestyle doesn’t present itself to today’s musicians like it used to.

This penchant for poking fun at the hard-living rock life spills over into their live shows. At a St. Louis show over break, they opened their set by announcing the following to the crowd: “Kids, we have a very important message for you. Try. Uppers. You can do things on them that you can’t normally do.” Then, they proceeded to put on an excellent but very low-key set, during which nothing any member did ever implied that they were the stars and that we had paid to see them.

Still, even without egos to feed or rampant hedonism as motivation, MGMT has put together a varied collection of psychedelic pop that manages to be consistently quirky and enjoyable, but occasionally impressive on a much grander scale. Their talent for restrained choruses with unusual instrumentation and progressions gives their sound an epic depth that belies the simplicity each track promises as it begins.

The album begins with a catchy, quavering keyboard line that telegraphs the band’s odd taste in synths, but it quickly morphs into a pounding, uplifting chorus that brings in orchestral elements that would have seemed completely out of place in the track just seconds before. One of my favorites from the album, “Weekend Wars”, aptly demonstrates MGMT’s ability to build a track’s intensity in more interesting ways than by turning up the volume — it takes a different tack that has drawn comparisons to Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie.

It starts with an acoustic guitar intro that sounds like it’s going to precede a sun-soaked vintage rock song, but at the pivotal moment it dives into a deft, synthy progression with a bouncy feel that takes me back to Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. MGMT are pretty new on the scene, but if this first LP is any measure of future success, dreams of Ferrari-and-cocaine stardom might not be too far-fetched after all.

John Lane

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