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Record Reappraisal: MGMT – Oracular Spectacular

Upon its release, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular achieved overwhelming levels of hype and praise. It was easy to see why. Its singles were the sort of skewed alt-pop that was commercial enough to get onto Radio 1. ‘Time to Pretend’, with its Day-Glo industrial synth throb and quirky, trebly keyboard riff was hard to avoid. Equally ubiquitous was the festival-ready, 8-bit pulse of ‘Kids’. Nowadays, the album is beginning to show its age.

What once sounded restlessly creative and mind-altering now sounds clinical and studied. It was easy to succumb to its charm, but now, awareness of its liberal pilfering of entry-level psychedelia staples is hard to quell. All those reverberating echo effects and backwards, phased-out guitars now sound tired and hackneyed. ‘Kids’ comes off more syrupy and chintzy than winning. ‘Weekend Wars’ features Andrew VanWyngarden’s fantastically unsubtle Mick Jagger impression—all wailed vowels and camp inflections on the end of every line—still, the proggy, seesawing chorus and life-affirming coda are hard not to love. Unfortunately, that dreaded impersonation crops up again on ‘Pieces of What’. ‘The Handshake’ opens superbly but tails off by the end. It sums up the album: A lightweight offering billed as being weirder than it really is.

It isn’t all bad, though. ‘Of Moons, Birds & Monsters’ has a strong melody that is undeniably great. The plaintive, marooned guitar hook that closes it adding a beautifully elegiac tone as it wrestles with increasing gusts of chattering, whirring noise. ‘Electric Feel’ is a stone-cold winner, the kind of unashamedly sexy glam-funk that mid-noughties indie seemed to hold in suspicious contempt. It is bold and insanely catchy, less 1960s-indebted psych than slinky, strutting 1980s pop. That aside, the rest of the album feels like two scientists trying their best to replicate, note for note, 1960s-indebted psych. ‘Future Reflections’ flirts with dub—then tosses the idea aside, dissolving into nothingness. There is something odd about how an album so vibrant-sounding can come off quite insipid at times.

It would be unfair to retroactively compare Oracular Spectacular to Tame Impala’s thrilling kaleidoscopic rock or other exponents of modern psychedelia. In fact, you needn’t cite a recent example to illustrate the album’s shortcomings. Animal Collective’s colourful, astonishing and highly acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion arrived a year later in 2009, but it sounds timeless. Looking back, Oracular Spectacular passes muster as a spirited but unremarkable effort.

Tags: indie, Inide Pop, MGMT, Oracular Spectacular, Pop, psychedelia, Synth Pop

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