Let’s be honest, MGMT are always going to be defined by their first album. Not because it’s necessarily their best one, but because it’s the home to three huge singles that everyone knows (‘Time To Pretend’, ‘Electric Feel’ and, of course, ‘Kids’.) On the two albums that followed Oracular Spectacular, the band seemed to do everything they could to get away from the poppiness of those singles, taking things in a more challenging psychedelic direction… A move that paid off pretty nicely on 2010’s Congratulations and not so well on 2013’s MGMT.
Given this trajectory, everyone expected MGMT to go even further down the weird rabbit-hole on their fourth album… But nope, instead, we get a bit of a U-turn, with the band re-embracing the pop sound they abandoned almost ten years ago. And surprisingly, it pays off; Little Dark Age is the most accessible album the band have put out in a long time and yet doesn’t feel like a retread of their early successes. It’s creative, fun and just the right amount of strange.
Kicking the album off is ‘She Works Out Too Much’ – a break-up song that’s beautifully ridiculous. Backed by some 80s fitness video-style synths, Andrew VanWyngarden sings about a relationship that fell apart because, well, his girlfriend spent too much time working out. Again, it’s ridiculous but MGMT make it work – in part because they fully commit to the silliness of it all, even having a fitness instructor monologue exercise routines on the bridge of the song.
There are plenty of other tracks on the album that adopt a similar tone, such as ‘TSLAMP‘ or ‘Time Spent Looking At My Phone’. It’s a great little critique of modern culture (‘God descends to take me home, find me staring at my phone’) that, like ‘She Works Out Too Much’, is musically a lot of fun too. There’s also ‘When You Die’, in which VanWyngarden attempts to come across as menacing to hilarious effect. Throughout the song, he tries to assure the listener that he’s evil (telling them to go fuck themselves at one point), the lyrics contrasting with his very boyish vocals. It’s great – just great.
Some songs take a darker tone, being less outright funny, such as ‘Little Dark Age’. The synths on this track are fantastic, having a heavy gothic tinge to them. The lyrics are similarly great, though pretty cryptic. I also love the similarly dark and melancholy ‘When You’re Small’ – on which the band reflect on their own rise to fame. It’s a minimalist track – only really featuring an acoustic guitar, a piano and VanWyngarden’s echoing vocals – and that makes it all the more eerie.
Little Dark Age only falters in a couple of places and never too heavily. ‘James’ is the only song I find easy to skip in the tracklist (coming across as a little bland), with the rest being solid. Overall, it’s an excellent return to form for the band – demonstrating that they can still retain their signature weirdness while making music that’s accessible and poppy.
Best Tracks: ‘She Works Out Too Much’, ‘Little Dark Age’, ‘Me and Michael’.