- Buy the CD
Reviewed by James B. Eldred
Thank God they did too, because if Andrew VanWyngarden and Den Goldwasser hadn’t picked up keyboards and fallen in love with electronic distortion effects, then they might have never left the drum circle and recorded Oracular Spectacular, a great debut album with a remarkably strong vision and unique musical style.
Much of the attention MGMT has received in recent months has been centered on the single “Time To Pretend,” a one-of-a-kind track that is not only a great song both musically and lyrically, but speaks almost perfectly as an ironic critique of the music industry and the current culture of our entertainment. Over a bouncy riff and psyched-out synth melody, the duo casually lists off all the horrible things they’ll do once they hit it big, including (but not limited to) shooting heroin, abandoning their old friends, and generally compromising their entire belief system. However, they know they’re just “fated to pretend,” because they’re never going to reach the level of stardom. It’s simultaneously a critique of the glamorized rock and roll lifestyle of the past and bittersweet coda to it. By far the deepest, most intelligent and danceable four minutes of music you’re going to hear all year.
Other songs on Oracular Spectacular aren’t as straightforward and are more unapologetically psychedelic in their imagery. Exactly what they mean by the opening lines of “Evil S I yes to find a shore / A beach that doesn’t quiver anymore” on “Weekend Wars” is a bit of mystery. But who cares? Because the fantastical/mythical/technophobic lyrics of the song melt off the tongue and are great accompaniment to the dreamlike waves of synthesizers in the background. “4th Dimensional Transitions” is similar, and even though its lyrics border on pure nonsense (Any takers on translating what “I’ll live inside your lips if you won’t laugh / My heaving hands on rotten fruit at last” means? Didn’t think so), everything around it is so damn beautiful it doesn’t matter in the least.
MGMT entirely embrace their psychedelic roots and go full-on hippie occasionally, but never to a point where it’s annoying (don’t worry, they never put down their keyboards, pick up acoustic guitars and start jamming). They do get a little preachy, though, albeit in a comforting, non-confrontational way. “The Youth” is an exceptionally mellow call to arms for the young people of the world to rise up and start fixing the problems their elders have caused. Not a new message by any means, but they are hippies, so they have to mention it. The pro-Earth/youth message is reinforced later on with “Kids,” where the group begs for us to use the planet’s resources responsibly, begging “Control yourself / Take only what you need from him.” Both of these songs would be annoying in lesser hands, but just as spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, an army of keyboards and effect pedals help the environmental manifesto go down.
They never take themselves too seriously either. “Electric Eel” morphs the band’s psychedelic leanings into funk and their preaching of peace and love into a giant come-on (“Turn me on with your electric eel” has to stand as one of the most obscure and confounding musical sexual metaphors since Muse turned interstellar phenomena into dirty talk with “Supermassive Black Hole”).
Believe the hype, buy the album. Oracular Spectacular is a bold mission statement by a band that will hopefully be big enough to one day become the horrible disgusting rock stars that they so very much want to be.