Did you know MGMT used to be an indie band? It's true.
Originally known as 'The Management,' the band recorded its first album, Climbing to New Lows, as a demo that was never meant for public consumption. The 10-song collection leaked onto the internet in 2005 and after receiving praise in snobby hipster circles it became the band's de facto first album. Indie as fuck.
Then came the name change and the music production team and the pop songs and the video game cameos until one fateful day a co-worker asked me if I had ever heard of MGMT. Keep in mind this is an ex-police officer who has openly spited health care reform and would probably burn down the rain forest if given the opportunity, telling me how great he thought the songwriting was. "You know that song about being a rock star? That's badass."
He is looking forward to the April 13 release of the band's new album, Congratulations, but I'm nearly certain that when he goes and actually purchases the CD rather than downloading it, he will be quite disappointed. Because as NPR says on its promotional piece for the album: "There's a chance that fans looking for more fun, electro-rock singles from MGMT won't find what they're looking for." The new album is decidedly different from the band's sophomore/breakout album, Oracular Spectacular, in that it almost entirely abandons the catchy dance riffs that made MGMT so popular to the masses.
It was a conscious decision by lead man Andrew VanWyngarden, who recently told Spin Magazine he never wanted to be a rock star in the first place. So rather than succumb to the "elegant cars" and "models for wives" the band went off the psychedelic deep end and created an EP devoid of singles, encouraging listeners to hear the album as a whole and see which tracks stood out on an individual basis. It is an album the band members contend is more true to themselves and reveals who they really are, despite the casualty of their self-gratification being the sound that made the band popular in the first place.
Can you imagine how furious the Sony music executives were the first time they heard the new album? After the frothing success of Vampire Weekend and the repetitive articles about how indie had finally gone mainstream I'm sure they thought MGMT was a seed about to sprout a money tree. Instead they got an album that will evoke a lot of 'huh?' and 'meh.' in many consumers.
It is an album that requires multiple listens to really get into and even after that only a handful of the tracks are exceptional and a couple are duds. No reverberation, echo or funky sound was spared in the creation of Congratulations, which offers a litany of psychedelic nonsense and silliness that will have you wondering what kind of drugs these guys were on. But the success of this album is not about the quality of the music, its about MGMT foraging their own path in the increasingly muddy waters of the music industry and going to war with execs to produce music that matters to the band even if it isn't financially viable. You could argue that MGMT will still make a ton of money off this record and that may be true, but its nowhere near the success they were poised to cash in on. And in somehow avoiding being drunk off that drug called fame, MGMT has saved the future of so-called indie music.
It's hard for me to ascertain that a band recording on a major music label like Sony/Columbia Records could theoretically save indie music but MGMT is like the first person to stand up to the school bully, and suddenly those executives aren't so imposing anymore. The line between mainstream and indie was becoming increasingly blurry but rather than becoming a regurgitated produce of indie culture that Sony studied and spit back out in the form of MGMT, the band stood up and sought its on its own path to greatness, a move that could cost them money but no doubt made them better musicians and raised the ceiling for their potential greatness.
Your congratulations are due MGMT, here is to the half-decent album that saved indie music.
Follow Mark R. Collins on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Markswords