Album Review: “Little Dark Age” by MGMT

MGMT finally settle into its niche between mainstream pop and indie psych rock.

On album opener, “She Works Out Too Much,” lead vocalist Andrew VanWyngarden sings, “Welcome to the shit show”; a fitting start from a band which could not care less about your validation. After releasing three of the most popular songs of the last decade, MGMT dropped off the face of the earth and made a few eclectic, non radio-friendly albums –– simply because it could. Now the band is back with an album that finally finds the perfect balance between niche and mainstream: “Little Dark Age.”

“Me and Michael,” for example, is a charming synth-driven song reminiscent of ‘80s chart toppers. The understated bassline blends beautifully with flowery guitars and the drum machine keeps the beat danceable. “When You Die” ditches the synths in favor of acoustic guitars and some of the most morbid lyrics on the entire album. Themes of death turn up a few times on the album, featuring prominently in songs like “One Thing Left to Try” and “Days that Got Away.”

It’s difficult to pin down a distinctive message or theme on an album that throws so much at you so quickly, but MGMT seem most concerned about the concept of wasted time; more specifically, the time spent wasted online. “She Works Out Too Much” is a critique of dating apps and the aptly titled “TSLAMP” which stands for “time spent looking at my phone.” “TSLAMP” is one of the more sonically pleasing cuts, with a vivid string section that sounds like it was soaked head-to-toe in reverb.

This album isn’t all good, however; there are a few skippable songs. These range from the dreadfully meh “When You’re Small,” to the downright strange “James,” which is just too odd for its own good. Fortunately, these songs sound better when listened to in the context of the whole album and don’t do too much damage to the overall quality of the album. At worst, they slow down the pace and add unnecessary minutes to the runtime. That leads to the main problem with “Little Dark Age”: the length. Nearly every song is over four minutes, and this leads to some playing out before they’re even halfway over. MGMT could easily shave seven to eight minutes off the total runtime and the album would be much better for it.

With all this said, however, everything this album does wrong is overshadowed by the sheer amount of what it does right. For every bad song, there are two great songs and for every boring moment, there is a banger just around the corner. The crown jewel of the album is the title track, “Little Dark Age,” a gothic pop song that puts The Cure to shame. This track alone shows that MGMT can still do what MGMT does best: make a catchy song. Every instrument serves a purpose and the lyrics are simple enough to get stuck in your head for weeks. This, along with the soothingly meditative closing track, “Hand It Over,” elevates “Little Dark Age” from just another MGMT album to the MGMT album.

Grade: A-
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2018