MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
“This is a call of arms to live and love and sleep together”. Pass the space dust and lock up your daughters / sons / cats / whatever, as some right weirdos have moved in next door.
Falling from a galaxy reserved for VIP space cadets like Prince, Beck, David Bowie and Outkast, MGMT have arrived seemingly fully-formed with a high sense of self mythology and ambition. With this debut produced by Flaming Lips' knob twiddler Dave Fridmann they were always going to be strange if only by association.
Looking like the Manson family rampaging through Mad Max's garden, these two men who fell to earth are (thankfully) totally out of tune with the other major scenes currently orbiting planet pop. No skinny jeans here. Musically their closest neighbours are the folk oddity of Devendra Banhart and pals, or Prince, when he knew Paisley Park was in your heart ('Electric Feel' is the best thing Prince hasn't done since 1991).
They offer a reminder that a great 45 is a beautiful thing, but accompanied by a strong image, it gains mystical powers. Rock n' Roll can be a club with a pledge of allegiance. This is a call to arms, not unlike early Verve or even Oasis in their single desire to unite and 'jump the fence' like some gonzo pied pipers.
For those who've only heard the singles, be warned the album does run a bit darker. The songs speak of liberation but laced with twists of menace and confusion. It's not only the clothes that are reminiscent of the late '60s. Some of the lyrics echo the disenfranchised folk fired up during the end of 'peace and love' in Altamont-era America.
The stand-out track for me is 'The Youth', which pulls off that always impressive trick of creating simultaneously melancholy and freakishly beautiful, and the result is sublime. “The youth is starting to change. Are you starting to change? Are you? Together”.It wouldn't have been out of place drifting amongst Screamadelica's more wistful second half.
With a '67 bohemian free-loving image and lyrics like “We got the handshake under our tongue”, they could be diving into a cliche but they appear too aware to be another trip-out, junkie squad. “Time To Pretend” is a four-minute history lesson of rock n' roll mythology (“We'll choke on our vomit and that will be the end”) as well as being one of the more charismatic and uplifting pop songs of the year. In fact, you're unlikely to get a better trio of singles ('Time To Pretend', 'Electrical Feel 'and 'Kids') from one band this year. Like the best bands, the singles stand individually and that ambition stretches a good portion of this full-length debut.
This could be pompous or self indulgent were it not for a fairly keen sense of humour - evident in the ludicrous costumes, war paint, the gloriously bargain-bin website and notably the 'Time To Pretend' video. A band who understand clearly ridicule is nothing to be scared of have at least one thing going for them.
Of course it's not perfect, the second half falters in comparison to the “stand-back-this-is-a-raid” opening half and some of the lyrics are proper nonsense, but it does have enough fire power to leave a wow! shaped hole in your brain.
It's also apparent they may “have the vision” but alas not quite yet “the budget”. Some critics have mocked them for not carrying their cat-riding craziness to the stage yet. The music and image are definitely crying out for a show to rival Ziggy, KLF or fellow astronauts the Flaming Lips. Hopefully, the paychecks will be put to good use. Guitar playing bears, giant pets, spears, beach fires, Hello Cleveland.
With the album now a few months old and 'Time To Pretend' missing the Top 30, there is a suspicion they may yet “get jobs in offices”, but following what maybe a Glastonbury inspired reprieve they may still have their chance to corrupt our youth, if we're lucky.
Either way, MGMT are designed to be a cult of one description or another. They're popstars who would be in jail if they weren't making music - albeit incarcerated for minor offences like lewd behaviour, protesting whilst dressed as a Zulu, or organising a Cat Rodeo. The kind of people who might revive some peoples' faith in the magick of rock n' roll. More like these, please.