Glam Rock – and New Romanticism – by its very nature, is the soundtrack to a party; style over substance, and depending on what substances you are taking, the shallowness of it can feel deep. Since its creation, each generation has hailed such individual freak-out anthems as saying so much that the previous just don’t get.
The psychedelic revival, heralded by Tame Impala, Empire of the Sun and MGMT in the late noughties, felt like prog rock for the now, but less ponderous and more in tune with the decadence of Nineties nostalgia. But how long until it’s time to come down from the high of all that, and see if any of this musical night holds merit beyond being a bit of a laugh? Are we still dancing, or is Little Dark Age one trippy album too far?
The opening track to MGMT’s first album in five years, “She Works Out Too Much”, is a jaunty mish-mash of Eighties synths and fitness work video instructions; I can picture a lounge full of LEGO and children sprawled about, and Mum in garish leotard star-jumping for all it’s worth.
However, despite this, whereas previous albums by this artist praised the indulgence for decadence and fun through art and getting out of it, Little Dark Age has a sense of melancholy about it; maybe – to paraphrase The Verve – the drugs stopped working. But it’s an enjoyable comedown collection, one minute very sub-futuristic, owing much to Gary Numan, while at other times more suited to the end credits of a John Hughes movie, particularly “Me and Michael”.
There’s nothing that will get you up on your feet like “Time To Pretend” or “Electric Feel” from their 2007 debut album Oracular Spectacular. Over eleven years, they have evidently matured – but they still remain loving the intangible, occasionally homage-ing Brian Eno’s seminal Here Come The Warm Jets.
The title track has a ominous euphoria which jolts the listener after the fun opener, but MGMT do like to keep their fans guessing. MGMT also make uneasy lyrics become sing-alongs; the chorus has such an electric kick that makes the verses linger like ghosts as you long for that lift.
The lyrics of “When You Die” have a quirky hateful spite that remind me of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” – I’m gonna eat your heart / I got some work to do – but they are underset by a combo of electronica and a ghostly chorus.
Meanwhile, “TSLAMP” and “Days That Got Away” contain some great rhythmic uncertainty and off-note drones that like all good jazz require many repeated listens to enable full immersion. This experimental nature keeps the album afloat and demonstrates the band’s want to not just produce alternative radio-friendly hits.
“One Thing Left To Try” feels like a return to their roots, with a stomping bass and a squeaky vocal proving they still have it in them to make your hips shake whilst taking you on a trip. However, “When You’re Small” is a very different direction for MGMT – Father John Misty meets Bowie’s “Rock n Roll Suicide”. It’s a tune dedicated to the relief of being not in power: When you are small / you don’t have very far to fall / you feel you belong. An anthem to being one of little people. With a world currently caught up in corporations and ridiculous presidents, being part of a small community seems pure rather something that can build a money-making industry. It’s freedom.
“James” and “Hand it over” represent the polar opposites of MGMT. Where the first is a fun self-indulgence you can dance to, the later is more precise and feels more heartfelt, with a dreamy slowness and a more delicate touch to their trademark psychedelic sound.
Little Dark Age lacks the noisy rawness of their previous self-titled album, but they work that to their advantage. As much as MGMT might borrow from the best with hints of Numan and Eno, it’s a good homage, and where their work may not be as innovative as their idols, it’s a sound that suits them. This album is a return to form; although there is nothing as strong as their debut album, the spirit remains the same, if now more self reflective.
And so the MGMT party goes on: new guests are arriving, the vibe feels different, but we keep dancing.
Little Dark Age is available now from Amazon.co.uk and other leading music retailers.