You know what sums up a zeitgeist? A new album from the hottest act made of private school educated, upper-middle-class kids obsessed with escapism, entitled Congratulations. Amiright? Nothing’s quite as representative of the Great Recession as MGMT, a band so steeped in reality their callow songs about being famous for the sake of fame actually came true. Just like the dreams of every American came true in 2009… oh wait. Umm… You mean a 9.8 percent unemployment rate isn’t what we as a nation strive for?
The “news” about the new MGMT album is slowly starting to seep through the ‘net, and it’s probably the last thing I would ever want to hear about. At a time when people around the world are struggling to make ends meet, I could care less about a couple of spoiled neo-hippies spending their days surfing in Malibu.
I completely understand the desire for escapism these days, but there’s something about the very essence of MGMT that irritates me to no end. Sure, though not every band I listen to is entrenched in political philosophy, most of it is deeply connected to the realities of human existence. Most tunes I tend to play are devoid of the kind of narcissistic consumerism (more so as in to consume above any concept of capitalism) that MGMT propagates in their music. The fact that this band is somehow representative of an alternative to mainstream rock music is as ludicrous as the existence of AIG employee bonuses and the potential $23 billion in bonuses for folks at Goldman Sachs.
There are other places you can turn to in order to get everything you could ever want to know about the big business bonuses. (I sincerely hope no one is reading this as their source for business news!) However, MGMT’s blatant, well, out-of-step nature with what most folks are experiencing today is something I may be able to speak more eloquently about.
Here’s a little word game. It’s kind of like Mad Libs, except there’s only one way to fill in the blank. Take a section from Matt Taibbi‘s now-famous screed on Goldman Sachs, “Inside The Great American Bubble Machine“:
The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.
Now, replace all references to “Goldman Sachs” with “MGMT,” “powerful investment bank” with “hyped-up indie band,” and “money” with “trend chaser” or “hipster.” (Whatever makes it seem funnier.) Make any sense?
Something about MGMT’s sudden rise to fame just never sat well with me. It could be the fact that there are literally hundreds of thousands of talented musicians who spend their free time focusing on honing their art that just never got the same kind of chance, hype and attention that MGMT received. It could be the fact that the band has somehow deceived the hype-driven tastemakers (NME), old people (Paul McCartney) and those still brave enough to cough up $20 for a CD or $100 for a concert ticket into thinking they are the greats of today’s generation. (Last time I checked, MGMT didn’t speak for me.)
Or it could be the fact that the band is outright terrible. There are swathes of consumption-driven lyrics that spin irony into something so post-modern the band members probably can’t wrap their heads around it. Then you have the music, something of so nostalgic in its essence there’s just no feeling left in the notes being played. Combine it all into one “phenomenon” (using the term loosely) which saw the rise of an act so insipid it all demands the question “why?”
It took several years for the group to go from Time To Pretend to Oracular Spectacular, during which time the band sucked what little life was in the slow-burning drone ditty “Time To Pretend” and made it into the droll tune it is today. I remember first discovering the single in a Said the Gramophone post back in ’06. Dan said it best himself:
I saw these guys open for Of Montreal and they sucked. But when I saw the name of their cd, Time To Pretend, I thought it was so honest of them. They don’t play instruments (literally, a guitar hung from strings and they strummed it with a drumstick), they can’t really sing, they just want to be cool, so they buckle down and start pretending. And it’s only fitting that the song of the same name, the only good song on the disc, is actually quite fun to listen to. So pretending is being, and everyone’s wrong about being right. The Wizard of Oz reminds us that we’re all fakers in some way, and MGMT reminds us that if you’re willing to pay, you can have it.
I’m not willing to pay. Why should I, and for that matter, the free world have to pay for the musical mistakes of some Wesleyan kids? Whatever the case may be, my response to such a musical madness will be anything but Congratulations.