For the decade of the 2020’s, I plan on listening to approximately one album per week from Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I will be posting my brief thoughts on each album here.
#494 – Oracular Spectacular by MGMT
For a publication oft criticized for keeping its nose stuck in the past, MGMT’s debut album is exactly the type of album I’d expect Rolling Stone to include in the lower regions of its “greatest albums” list — ya know, for cred!
My history with MGMT is that of a one-hump roller coaster. I never did quite figure out what I thought about this album’s inescapable three singles: “Kids,” “Electric Feel,” and “Time to Pretend.” I didn’t love them, but I also didn’t hate them. I was annoyed enough by their ever-presence to never purchase (or even entirely listen to) the rest of the full-length from which they hailed, Oracular Spectacular, but it did get me interested in their trajectory as an artist. Eventually, I had gone all-aboard the hype train for the very strange lead-up to the left-turn of a sequel, Congratulations, a psychedelic experiment that I quite enjoyed. (I even started referring to the band as “Management” instead of “M.G.M.T.”) But I’ve hardly listened to the band since 2010.
There’s a disappointment when you hear an album for the first time, having been familiar only with the singles, and your main takeaway is, “Of course those were the singles.” I still don’t love or hate those three tracks — “Kids” has about the same appeal and same catchy qualities as “Funkytown” — but the album offers little else, especially for a listener like me who has zero patience for the “indie” singing style. Andrew VanWyngarden may be great at layering old-school synthesizers in fresh ways, but he brings nothing engaging to the table as a vocalist, which becomes increasingly evident as you wade through this album’s deep cuts.
The only track that really surprised me came towards the end: the engagingly beautiful “Of Moons, Birds & Monsters,” which masks VanWyngarden’s weaknesses with gorgeous harmonies. It was a breath of fresh air that saved the Side B of Oracular from feeling like a total waste of time.
Interestingly, I agree much more with Rolling Stone‘s original 3.5 star review of this album. How it managed to grow so greatly in favor with the RS critics within four years, I have no idea, but I’ll tell you this: whenever Rolling Stone inevitably updates this list, MGMT won’t be there. However, albums listed behind it — especially OutKast’s Aquemini — will still be present.
For those of you reading this who don’t know the reason why I started down this insane journey, it’s because so much of my listening time is dedicated to new music that I’ve managed to be profoundly ignorant of the music of the past. Truly, most of my music listening goes back no further than 1999. So it’s hilariously ironic that the albums I’ve enjoyed the least from this list thus far have been the two entries from the 2000’s!
Author’s Note: The reason I created this website and write these articles stems from my belief that artists should support other artists, in the same way that art inspires art. My debut album Unfall is out now, and I’d love for you to hear it.