This Monday night, MGMT hits the House Of Blues behind new album Congratulations, which has been getting one of the most tepid responses for a new album by a buzz band in recent media memory. The people that jumped on the bandwagon in 2008 after the Brooklyn-based then-duo released Oracular Spectacular and killed every audience they saw at SXSW that year have been mostly shunted and confused by Congratulations. Its rash wave of experimentation standing in opposition to what the band was doing on the former has turned people off from the album, but not so much the band, seeing that the HOB date is a sell-out. Our take on the album is that, for the most part, it's not bad. If it came from a group of unknowns in day-glo attire and was picked up by a indie blog, it would be hailed as the best thing since OK Computer or Merriweather Post Pavilion (more on that one later). It's decent and catchy, but not the digital piece of dog shit some more cynical critics are calling it. Rocks Off hears echoes of the Jam, Donovan and Elvis Costello, and those aren't bad influences to wear on your paint-splattered ripped sleeve at all. What's funny is that after one album, one singularly fluky album with maybe four marketable singles, people thought they had MGMT sorted out. Take all of your favorite artists and see which of their debuts definitively exhibit what their mark would be on music.
Would you imagine that the band that did A Hard Day's Night would be the same one to would make the White Album five years on? Of course not. Compare early Clash singles like "White Riot" with all six sides of Sandinista, or Ian MacKaye's Minor Threat work to Fugazi's more esoteric offerings. We aren't comparing MGMT to any of those, but you get the point. Congratulations cannot be the aural oil spill that it is made out to be. Yes, the cover art is laughable - the lysergic Sonic The Hedgehog doesn't convey what's going inside at all. That's a fail. But overall, Congratulations isn't a bad album, probably just a bad MGMT album. Throughout the history of rock and roll, bands have made missteps either in the eyes of critics or fans. Early on Rolling Stone magazine hated Led Zeppelin with a fiery passion and slagged of their albums, but the band and its members have been on the cover of more than a few times in the past thirty years. Tastes change, knives get dull, and critics take new looks at things. It happens to the best of them. Things grow on you; sometimes it takes a week, a month or even a decade.
Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique (1989) For the follow-up to Licensed To Ill, the Beasties went for an army of samples and a California mansion, and completely funked up the end of the '80s. They knew they couldn't build a career on Ill, and being the artists they were, came up with Paul's Boutique. Three years on, they would rediscover live instrumentation and the hardcore punk they were raised on - go figure. Weezer, Pinkerton (1996) The "Blue Album," Weezer's 1994 debut and the first of three self-titled, color-coded discs, was pure garage-pop. Each song had a quirk and a smirk to it missing in mainstream rock at the time, sort of a Fisher-Price My First Indie Band. Two years later came Pinkerton, a self-doubting monster's ball of emotions. Tempestuous lesbians, yearning for Japanese groupies and general malaise abounded; most people shrugged and moved on to rap-metal. It would take a good four years for the album to reach its cult zenith and allow the band to make a comeback tour and record 2001's "Green Album," which in turn had people calling Weezer out for being too poppy.
The Rolling Stones, Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) When Majesties hit stores around for the holidays in 1967, it confounded Stones fans and had people crying that it was merely the band trying to reach for what the Beatles had done months before with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The album was easily multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones' baby, full of mellotrons and flower power, things that were in stark contrast to Keith and Mick's previous direction at the time. It wasn't without its standouts, though: "She's a Rainbow" is still a mainstay in Stones setlists four decades on, and "Citadel" sports one of Keith's best licks. ("Gomper" still sucks, though.) The blowback from Satanic ended up good for everyone (except Jones, perhaps) - the Stones' next studio album was Beggar's Banquet. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) Animal Collective's 2009 breakthrough LP created civil war and unrest in the music world, especially with the indie kids, who either loved or hated it. Luckily, Merriweather was released in January to revel in 11 months of love and hate until the best-of lists came out. You either hate it for its toy-ish clamor or you love it for its playfulness and intricacy. For us, "My Girls" is still the best thing on it, and the rest gets tedious.
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Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music (1975) Personally, we like this album. But then again we also like Sunn0))), Boris and most other noise bands. Reed's 1975 release is literally an hour or so of distortion, but it's an art project more than a conventional album. It's not like Reed shopped any of these songs to radio or made promo clips; he knew what it was. It was really different than anything Suicide or Glenn Branca was doing at the time, but what angered people was that it wasn't "Walk On The Wild Side." Houston is actually known for music like this, thanks to people like Don Walsh and Richard Ramirez. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001-02) In this case, the record label was the angry party and not the critics or the fans. Reprise Records wasn't too high on the album that Jeff Tweedy and Wilco turned it in to them in mid-2001. The band left the label with the masters by the fall, streamed it on their own Web site and was picked up by Nonesuch Records in early 2002. The love for the album was immediate, and it ended up topping best-of polls and even managed to sell enough copies to go gold, not an easy feat in the record-buying climate of the time.
Moby, Play (1999) Play would go on to be the soundtrack for most everything for a solid year after it was released; each of its 18 tracks was put on the block for commercial licensing, making Moby a very rich man. The electronic DJ/artist had been known for the occasional guitar album (Animal Rights) or lush beds of synths like on Everything Is Wrong. The Gwen Stefani-assisted "South Side" was the pop hit that made Moby a household name, but also tarnished his former rep as the vegan DJ. Some cried sellout; others just wanted to put on "Honey" and get on the treadmill.