No need to pretend, this MGMT record is solid as they come.Columbia, 2018
7.4 / 10
It’s been over ten years since MGMT’s debut album, Oracular Spectacular. That album launched off the success of the song, “Time To Pretend”, reworked from their 2005 debut EP. The song fit with a shift in alternative rock music where the “rock” was seemingly going away as alternative bands embraced pop sensibilities. Still, Oracular Spectacular was special in that there was an edge to it. Just enough weirdness where it would blasphemy to compare against anything by Owl City. MGMT could have easily evolved (or devolved) into a band like The Limousines. Remember “Very Busy People”? Well, MGMT went another route, one a bit stranger and less commercial on their debut’s follow-up Congratulations. Instead of a fun synth-pop band, they went dark and psychedelic. Their self-titled third album continued this trend probably not to their label’s delight.
This brings us to MGMT’s fourth album, Little Dark Age. While the lyrical content does indeed live up to the album’s title of being dark, the songs are brighter and could be the band at their poppiest since their debut. But this is MGMT, which means their songs are still a little weird. Opening song, “She Works Out Too Much”, is a fun synth-laden affair. Here, a relationship falls apart because our song’s protagonist doesn’t work out as much as his girlfriend. So while goofy, it’s also making a statement on a superficial dating culture that doesn’t want to admit its superficial. Plus, the whole idea as a song is bananas.
Less strange is the woozy “Me and Michael” that relishes ‘80s nostalgia while also presenting an ambiguous relationship. Just what is going on? We may never know, but their relationship is “solid as they come.” “Me and Michael” kind of serves as a palate cleanser to what comes before it. “When You Die” could be the band at their most aggressive and angry as Andrew VanWyngarden sings, “Go fuck yourself/ You heard me right.” But the song is also so chill and paints death as this relief from anxiety and bullshit with everyone celebrating your escape from the nonsense. And maybe MGMT are getting away from nonsense as well. Finally, it sounds like they’ve found the happy medium between their experimental tendencies and their natural pop charisma. I think it’s the best we can hope for.