Perhaps no other band in the last few years has so willingly and openly tried to avoid commercial success as much as MGMT. It was certainly a strange move for a band that achieved so much in such a short period of time, and in their purposeful effort to avoid making anything that could be considered close to their pop past, the duo of Andrew WanVyngarden and Ben Goldwasser made some unpopular moves. The fantastic 2013 Pitchfork cover story entitled “Let’s Get Small,” highlights the bands’ lack of satisfaction with being looked up to as commercial stars and what they did to reset their image – abandoning the glittery day-glo displays and obvious drug references, and throwing away the hippie beads and the torn shirts that littered the videos to “Time To Pretend,” “Kids,” and “Electric Feel.” In a move that recalls Radiohead’s strict aversion to playing their biggest commercial hit, “Creep,” MGMT were so dissatisfied with their image and how they were being perceived by their audience that they stopped playing some of their biggest hits at live shows.
Long story short, the duo got what they wanted – the band hasn’t had a large commercial hit (or any sort of hit) since their 2007 debut, Oracular Spectacular, and their output to this point has been getting less and less accessible to mainstream audiences. They did seem to find a nice halfway point on their criminally overlooked sophomore album, Congratulations, but their third album, the boring and borderline un-listenable, MGMT, made it all too clear the band’s mantra would continue to be “that was us then, this is us now, deal with it.”
For a band that once wanted to “parachute some heroin and fuck with the stars,” times have changed – that much is clear by the band’s newest single “Little Dark Age.” The track is a far cry from the out-there psychedelic excursions of MGMT, but it’s also not another exercise in straight synth pop like “Kids” or “Time to Pretend”; instead, it once again finds the middle ground between the two extremes while adding an interesting gothic, dark flare into the mix. The first thing that comes to my mind when listening to “Little Dark Age” is that it sounds a lot like The Cure on their 1989 album Disintegration – there’s definitely a darker, more menacing and eerie overtone here than on anything MGMT have done to date. The music video helps visualize that haunting feeling – with lead singer VanWyngarden donning a classic Robert Smith haircut, and the rest of the video featuring absurd, strange images of the band. From a musical standpoint, the hooky chorus of “Little Dark Age” leaves us with a glimmer of hope that the band may not be trying to abandon their pop sensibilities (at least not completely) anymore despite this radical change in style.
Even in spite of its overtly dark nature, the song is the best thing that MGMT has done in a while, and provides us with a perfect backdrop as we inch closer to Halloween. As for what this song means for the band’s overall direction, we’ll have to wait until early 2018 for their fourth studio album to drop to get a better idea of where they are going.