I confess to shying away from listening to Congratulations, MGMT's follow-up to the surprise hit debut Oracular Spectacular, for two reasons. First, I never got into said debut. Second goes out to pretentiously not wanting to listen to 'mainstream-indie' music. My mistake.
MGMT basically had two choices when it was time to approach LP2. They could continue making radio-friendly songs that everyone wanted to hear despite the fact that they didn't really believe in them, or they could go off in a totally different direction. Either way, their fanbase was destined to be split. It's true of pretty much all groups that have achieved similar debut success. They tank if they carbon copy the first one. They tank with fans of the debut if they go off in a different direction.
Lucky for me and fans of well-crafted art rock, MGMT decided to go against the grain. Congratulations amazingly produced (which is why they don't translate well live), lyrically interesting, sonically coherent and overall a great package - much better than the topical pop Oracular gave us. Unfortunately, the general consumer doesn't have enough patience for an LP like this, or a beautiful track like Siberian Breaks, the 12 minute long album centerpiece. Those people will be hopefully be appeased (seriously!) by poppier tracks like Brian Eno and Song for Dan Treacy, but even at that, they don't really match the danceability of their previous hits. I don't mind this at all. But then again, I love it when 'loud' artists do softer tracks (ex. Arctic Monkeys' 505; Young Rival's The Ocean, Soft Pack's Mexico, Tokyo Police Club's Swedes in Stockholm).
There's plenty more to say, but I'll end it here:
It seems like there will always be a part of their fanbase that will never be thrilled in the least by this gem of a recording and in turn lost, but that's the price MGMT (probably happily) pays for musically taking the direction they'd like to.
"All is well if the ticket sells."