MGMT ‘Little Dark Age’ review: soul(less) pastiche and fallback smart-arsery
‘Get ready to have some fun’, the album’s opening words, sampling a 1980s fitness VHS, set the general tone of MGMT’s latest, Little Dark Age, but also serve as a forewarning of its key challenge…
The album falls into a pattern typical of the synth-pop/prog duo: throw a magical hook-bejewelled pop song or two (the title track in this case, which works itself up to a transcendent pulsing chorus – see also, Time to Pretend, Kids) into a run of tracks that appear, initially at least, to consist largely of dicking about.
When You Die is way chirpier than its title suggests, but trips over its own raffishly undone shoelaces with the lyrics ‘Go f*** yourself… I’m mean, not nice… I’m gonna eat your heart out’. Tslamp expertly homages Aphex Twin’s own homage to 1980s synthistry, Windowlicker and Me and Michael could easily have sound-tracked a ‘Weird Science’ montage sequence.
Elsewhere, they might just as well have replaced the whole of James with the sound of giggling as they scamper off with Ariel Pink’s limelight (and sound – the track is all crooning and lo-fi wooziness). One Thing Left to Try packs in 808 cowbells, stacked 80s vocals, epic polysynth hooks and huge Phil Collins drums, before setting them off with a pinch of vocoder. The final track Hand Me Down is a white boy soul(less) pastiche, which makes up for its relative lack of hooks by throwing in hyper-detailed nods to mid-80s smoochy last-song-of-the-school-disco ballads.
The improbably named Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, MGMT mainmen, are clearly astute musical magpies with an exhaustive knowledge of 30-year-old digital synth sounds and their value as cultural signifiers, but at the same time they might have improved the overall texture of their record by rising above their fallback smart-arsery and make more effort to foreground their whip-smart tunes, which take several listens to fully emerge and therefore depend on listeners willing to stick around long enough through the japery.
For patient plastic pop people 8/10. For everyone else, an intermittently annoying 6/10.
By Julian Crockford