Little Dark Age was supposed to be an encouraging new dawn for MGMT, who have been on a gradual decline since their debut album in 2007. Although I was never totally smitten with Oracular Spectacular, it’s no question that the record contained a plethora of catchy songs, some of which carried significant weight to an adolescent demographic. Indeed, “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” were the soundtrack to many teenage trickeries.
In comparison, Little Dark Age feels stale and slightly irrelevant. The clear change of sound is admirable, but the songwriting rarely feels complete. Synthpop isn’t a genre I’m exactly enamoured with — a good percentage often has an uneven relationship between style and substance — but it can no doubt be a captivating style of music. Unfortunately, Little Dark Age nails neither style nor substance, and MGMT find themselves trapped between different varieties of the aesthetic. They go from quirky indie pop on “When You Die” (a song that certainly stands out for its interesting contrast between the charming instrumental and striking lyrics) to full-on 80s dance pop on “Me and Michael”. Neither are particularly good. “TSLAMP” is a bizarre song about the ghastly effect mobile phones has had on social interaction, which is very profound indeed.
The sarcasm that Little Dark Age is smothered with does become strenuous, to the point where genuine moments of sincerity twinkle like a shining light. Rarely does the music itself share the same sparkle.
6 out of 10
You know how albums sometimes have a song or two that could stand to be cut? Little Dark Age is entirely made up of those songs. They’re not bad, the production is ok, but is that enough? Synth tunes plod along with all the charisma of a mumbler with a weak chin, and it’s not as if the mix is lush enough to distract from the total absence of drive or direction. If Little Dark Age went nowhere but sounded great, ok, but it goes nowhere and sounds fine. It’s utterly middling.
“Me and Michael” sounds like budget Wham!, “TSLAMP” is the anti-phone anthem nobody was waiting for. Most of the melodies resemble some kind of atonal, slow-motion scat singing, and when MGMT do branch out and try for a hook they opt for the likes of, ‘Go fuck yourself / You heard me right,’ which is way more edge than anyone can reasonably handle. “When You’re Small” has something about it, a bit of colour and focus. Indeed, the last few tracks together resemble something that belongs in an album, but by the time they arrive I’m well and truly checked out. I really hope it’s my problem, because there’s something uniquely depressing about records that exist and manage little else.
5 out of 10
I was a huge fan of MGMT’s debut, Oracular Spectacular, but I missed their releases since. That may well skew my perception of the band next to an avid MGMT fan. With that in mind however, I’ve hardly noticed Little Dark Age playing. It’s not something I expected to be saying about a band that has released a collection of enduring singles since their debut, each distinctive and full of character.
The album even gets off to a promising start too, as “She Works Out Too Much” is a quirky, bouncy opener that sets up an animated, lively atmosphere that I’d expect from this flavour of synthpop. But from there I find things trail off pretty quickly. The lead single and title track still sounds good, with its brooding sullen complexion in tow. However, from here on, I find very little to like or dislike either way, which is almost worse than evoking a strong feeling either way. The one exception I’ve found in each play through is “TSLAMP”, whose lyrics don’t hit the mark and fail to make the less than subtle point they intended to.
It’s a huge shame I’ve not fallen for this album, as, aside from the fact there are definitely the makings of a solid album in here, I hear a lot of similarities between the likes of Air, Dark Side era Pink Floyd and many of the great indie-pop acts from the 00s that I’ve loved. Based on the general reception, I must be the one missing something too, which is frustrating but I’ve found it difficult to feel anything about Little Dark Age, which is ultimately the main thing I look for in music.
5 out of 10