Album Review: MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

I’m going to ask for a big favor. I need a little willing suspension of disbelief for this one. I want you to pretend that MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular isn’t one of the most hyped releases of 2008, ok? Pretend that you haven’t already read about it on everyone else’s blog, and that they haven’t all said it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread (before they, naturally, say how over-hyped it was at the end of the year). I promise to (at the very least try to) make it worth your while. Ready?

Charles Dickens once wrote that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I believe that comes from A Tale of Two Cities. I never really fell for Dickens, but the convoluted point I’m going for here is that Oracular Spectacular is, for me anyway, a tale of two halves. The first five songs on the album are rather splendiferous, almost magical creations, whereas the second half is a moderate letdown after the glimmering shimmering wonder of the first half. Does that mean the second half sucks, thereby rendering the album not worth the effort? Of course not, silly. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it.

So why do I so enjoy Oracular Spectacular, other than because the name is fun to say (and write)? It begins with “Time to Pretend,” which in a strange way is the musical equivalent of the way I used to feel when taking a train up to New York City, and the train would barrel along out of the wilds of New Jersey and into the somewhat intimidating massiveness of NYC’s lights glittering in the black of the evening. It feels breathlessly pins-and-needles exciting, but with an underlying sense of something looming just beneath the surface. Also, as happens on many songs on the album, I sink my teeth into one particularly goofy line, which makes me fall deeper in smit with the album as a whole. “I’ll move to Paris/shoot some heroin/and fuck with the stars” is the line of choice here. As a proponent of all things ridiculous, for some reason the more off the wall the lyrics are here, the more I love them. The beat-tastic background is also a nice touch. “Weekend Wars” used to perplex me, given the abruptness of its beginning, not to mention the slightly off-key vocals. But the more I listened to it, the better it got. And I love the line, “Now I can shoot a gun to kill my lunch,” which for some reason makes me laugh. I find “The Youth” to be a calming, almost soporific song, fuzzily swirling along on placid seas.

My two favorite songs are back-to-back, “Electric Feel” and “Kids.” “Electric Feel” makes me wonder if the MGMT boys ransacked their Uncle Guido’s 70s sleazy lounge record collection and sampled the hell out of it, and also features my favorite line on the whole album: “shock me like an electric eel,” which may or may not be the actual line, but damned if I’m gonna think otherwise. “Kids” is light on the sleaze but equal in the rad department. Against the throbbing bass, the line “take only what you need” is repeated again and again, and makes me wonder what MGMT were talking about. I like to think of it as being cautionary advice for life in general, but only they know for sure.
And that, friends, was the best of times.

The second half is still good, but I find myself increasingly repeating the first five tracks on a fairly constant basis. “Pieces of What” is most excellent, a refreshing blast of acousticicism, with a slight twang creeping in. I’m a Virginian, I like a little twang every now and then. It’s most definitely the best song out of the second half.

All told, Oracular Spectacular is a lot better than most of the stuff you’ll hear this year. MGMT are not to be taken lightly. The first half alone justifies owning the album, and I definitely endorse six of the ten tracks as being gold-standard. It makes you wonder if the hype machine might just be getting things right every now and then.


  1. Insightful review of one of my faves for 2008. My only quibble: you sustained the myth that the band's name is "pronounced Management." It's actually pronounced M-G-M-T, the letters, despite what you've read all over the blogosphere. Check it:

  2. Thanks muchly. And I also thank you for getting the name thing right for me. I had vascillated for weeks on the "correct" way to pronounce the band's name, and now I see my original pronunciation was indeed right.


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