Call it reserved madness, subtle delirium, the Mad Hatter as played by a Xanaxed David Bowie. After the relatively joyous freakout of 2007's Oracular Spectacular — including loopy hits Time to Pretend and Kids — Brooklyn art-pop outfit MGMT has gone out of its way to keep obvious, commercial fun out of their followup, the newly released Congratulations.
That doesn't mean there's no wiggy dance silliness to be had on the nine new tracks. It's just that the Grammy-winning quintet — but mostly oddballs Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser — has no desire to be modern chart-toppers, no matter the millions of giddy new fans clamoring for original pop. If it happens, it happens. In the meantime, try the peyote cupcakes; they're divine.
MGMT could be huge, but look no further than prickly baroque instrumental Lady Dada's Nightmare to understand the mission statement. Instead of challenging the fame-ravenous Ms. Poker Face with a banger of its own, the band dilutes LG's ubiquity with a sonic meltdown, a time-out for the sweaty masses. Maybe one day MGMT will fight for Billboard superiority, but not now.
The buzz behind the new album is that MGMT refused to give its record label, the mighty Columbia, any singles to release. In fact, the original plan for Congratulations was to offer it all as a free download. Maybe that's because the influences range from psycho-circus '60s trippery (It's Working) to layered Pet Sounds lushness (the 12-minute Siberian Breaks, which is as lovely as it is bizarre).
It gets weirder: There's a "fake flute" on Flash Delirium that sounds straight out of H.R. Pufnstuf; couple that with the lyric "Time's tingling spines / Attaching hands to the floor / The rosy-tinted flash / The hot dog's getting cold" and you know what you're in for. Other instruments on the album, produced by avant-guitarist Sonic Boom, include the Gakken SX-150 and the "first documented use of the EMT 250 reverb 'glitch.' " Wow.
Congratulations almost feels like a one-off, a side excursion for all the ideas running through the band's big, throbby brain. Columbia probably wanted a song to pair with a car commercial. MGMT would prefer you cool the engine and ponder some.
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Song review: Not Myself Tonight
Album: Bionic (RCA)
In stores: Song on iTunes now; album out June 8
Still dirrty: Christina Aguilera moans, drops f-bombs and breathily promises a night of bisexual boot-knockin' on the new Not Myself Tonight, the first single from June 8's Bionic album. If this were 2002 — her smutty Xtina daze — the raunch-a-rama would be understandable (if still kind of icky). But the peroxide belter long ago bailed on the Brit-Brit Brigade and reinvented herself with 2006's juke-jointy Back to Basics, a dizzyingly ambitious album. She got hitched and had a bouncing baby boy, too. So why is the 29-year-old star trying to prove how skanktastic she still is? Why is she throwing down about bedding the town? Produced by Fergie pal Polow da Don (London Bridge), the cut is vaguely retro — but vaguely retro in an early '90s, C+C Music Factory, too-many-kamikaze-shots sort of way. With its fevery beats and strobey vocals, it might catch on in the skeezier dancehalls. And Aguilera can sing for sure; she hits notes you just don't hear on a dance track. Still, the song makes you long for a wet-nap. Here's hoping the rest of the album doesn't need a penicillin shot.
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The '80s Wedding Playlist
A few weeks ago, loyal reader Johann Gambolputty (not his birth name, I'm thinking) asked for my assistance. It seems that J.Gamz was desperate for help in planning his wedding. And because no one knows about matrimonial bliss better than yours truly (cricket, cricket . . .), I gladly accepted. Here's the challenge: Señor Gambolputty is an '80s freak, and thus all of the music played at his gala will be circa that magical decade. HOWEVER! Mista G already has a few hours of music planned. But now he's officially out of songs. What he needs help with, boys and girls, is the final hour; he craves keep-'em-moving dance cuts and bridesmaid-hookup slow jams. But they can't be obvious! Come On Eileen was played during the appetizers. Same goes for It Takes Two by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. Heck, the theme from Miami Vice was probably dusted off when they cut the flippin' cake. What Gambo craves at this point are overlooked gems, lesser hits, cult faves. If you want to help him out, go to blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic. For now, here are 10 cuts from my iPod that will ensure Mr. and Mrs. Gambolputty (clap, clap) happily dance, fast and slow, through that final hour. Cheers!
1. Da Butt, Experience Unlimited
2. Ain't Nobody, Rufus & Chaka Khan
3. All She Wants To Do Is Dance, Don Henley
4. Love Missile F1-11, Sigue Sigue Sputnik
5. Kiss, Tom Jones
6. In My House, Mary Jane Girls
7. Meet Me Half Way, Kenny Loggins
8. No One In the World, Anita Baker
9. Could I Have This Dance, Anne Murray
10. It Might Be You, Stephen Bishop
(Author's note: That play-list is so good, it makes me want to get married. Almost.)