It seems like a good idea that I get out a little disclaimer before I get too far on reviewing this album. See, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular is an album that I have had in my regular rotation at one point in time. Which should be noted, because it will bias me when writing about it. Also take note that I’m not saying I’ve already listened to it, or that I have heard it a couple of times and enjoyed it. It was a part of my regular rotation. I kept it in my car. I sang along to it. I might even have known some of the words. That is not to say that this is my favorite album on the 500 list. Even a quick glance at the list in its entirety would yield many an album that I think are “greater.” But I will be far less harsh when talking about this album than the Stone Roses.
I should also let you know what my brother (who is listening to these 500 albums as well) said after listening to Oracular Spectacular: “It’s good, but I forgot how super hipster it is.” Or maybe he called it “Hipster crap,” I can’t quite remember. Either way, he’s kind of right. Maybe that is why I enjoy it so much.
The first time that I listened to Oracular Spectacular I was living in Seattle (figures), working at the Starbucks at 6th and Union. It was kind of a tradition that whoever I was closing with on any given night would plug their MP3 player into the sound system (does this show my age?) and select a custom mix of tunes while we closed up shop. I’m sure that I subjected many a barista to more Rush than they ever wanted to hear whilst we cleaned the store after hours. On one of those nights, my coworker AJ asked if I had heard of MGMT. I had not. “It’s kind of weird,” he warned me.
It was, and I loved it instantly.
The so-called weirdness of this doesn’t really hold up as much after dub-step and 8-bit music hit the scene, but in 2007 Oracular Spectacular had a sound that wasn’t quite like anything I had heard before. Its weirdness was really its distinctiveness, and dang it was catchy! Which leads me to my only objection to Rolling Stone’s comments on this album.
Yeah, sure. MGMT really is “Two hipster geeks.” No problem with that. And “Kids” is massively poignant, with a great hook. No problem there. But what about calling Oracular Spectacular a “suite of synthesized heartache”? Nope! I ain’t havin’ that!
Oracular Spectacular certainly has moments of emotionalism, but overall the album is filled with super catchy songs that are more reminiscent of pop than electronica. “Time to Pretend”? Catchy pop hit. “Electric Feel”? Gets played in clubs. “The Youth”? A bit more laid back, but still one of the catchiest hooks on the album. The only overtly “heartache”-ish song on the album is “Kids”. One could argue that “Pieces of What” and “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters” fall along those same lines, but they are nowhere to the same degree. Even with those it’s not enough to qualify the entire album as a “suite of synthesized heartache”.
I am being overly critical, sure, but I think that you should at least have the right expectations when you listen to this album. It does have some odd moments, but overall it is really an album chocked full of pop hits. Sure, it’s a little psychedelic or whatever (the Google says Indie Rock, Psychedelic Rock or Psychedelic Pop), but all of those psychedelic hits are rock solid pop songs.
Finally, what is possibly my favorite thing about this album and all of the poppy, psychedelic tracks is the layering on all of them. MGMT took full advantage of digital recording’s ability to easily throw more layers into a track, but managed to do it without it just becoming noise (with maybe the exception being the end of “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters”). There is enough going on in this album that you really can not hear all of it on just one listen (or if you aren’t actively listening (decent headphones help as well)). Each track has depth to it. Sure, the musical composition may not be earth-shattering, but it’s filled in well to make tracks that are pleasant to listen to–which is what people typically want in their pop (even if it is a bit on the psychedelic side of life).
“Okay, but is it Great?” That’s a trickier question. I certainly like it, but I also don’t know how well it will hold up over time. As I right this Oracular Spectacular is ten years old and it seems to hold up well. By the time I finish this blog (originally I predicted 2028 I think but it might be the year 3030 at my current pace) I don’t know that it will have held up as well. So for right now, I’ll tentatively say that, yes, this hipster crap is Great. Maybe in ten years I’ll wise up.
My Solid Gold Picks for this album are:
- “Time to Pretend” – Fun pop track with serious life lessons.
- “The Youth” – As I mentioned above, this song has an awesome hook.
- “Electric Feel” – This song gets down all the way.
- “Kids” – Possibly their biggest early hit?
- “Future Reflections” – Maybe a touch on the weirder side of things.
You can listen to these and all of my other Solid Gold Picks on my Spotify Playlist, The Greatest Songs in the Universe.