MGMT’s “Little Dark Age”: An Album Past its Prime
by Cristian Trandafir
MGMT is one of America’s most popular Psychedelic Rock bands, although most Americans don’t even know it. Their 2007 album, “Oracular Spectacular,” spawned some of the biggest commercial rock hits, such as “Kids” and “Electric Feel.” Together, their top three songs have amassed over 370 million views on YouTube. Their older songs were characterized by their gritty bass contrasted with happy synths and inspirational lyrics. Overall, their style has aged well, with over 20 remixes and covers of “Kids” by artists including B.o.B and Mac Miller. The melodical excellence of the chords in “Oracular Spectacular” will continue to influence the present, but MGMT hopes their 2018 effort will last the wear of time.
According to the band, “Little Dark Age” was meant to be a social commentary inspired by President Trump’s election in 2016. With five years to pitch ideas, practice producing, and compose lyrics, the band should have had enough time to be able to produce another platinum-selling album like their debut one, “Oracular Spectacular.” Yet, they have not. The album starts off with a throwaway track, “She Works Out Too Much.” The song criticizes modern dating culture, featuring a tacky 80s workout video sample throughout the track. “The only reason we never worked out was/He didn't work out enough,” explains the female singer in the song. The song does not offer any deeper statements, and falls short as an opener because of it. The drums and synths, however, are very smooth and the instrumental itself is very complex, never allowing the listeners to lapse into boredom while they are listening.
The title track of the album, “Little Dark Age,” is the next song. The track starts with a man singing about self improvement and how the more he betters himself, the more he escapes from his dark past. The song finishes with him and a group of people bringing stones to throw at police off of a bridge. “When You Die” is an even stranger song. “You die/And words won't do anything/It's permanently night/And I won't feel anything/We'll all be laughing with you when you die.” Distorted laughter is added to the track as these lines are sung, while a serene melody plays throughout the entire track.
“Me and Michael” and “James” are positive songs about friendship. “TSLAMP” stands for Time Spent Looking At My Phone. It is a criticism of smart phones, and while the lyrics have great flow, there is no addendum that the song adds to smart phones’ negative effects on people that newspapers, journalists, clickbaiter users, and all other media sources have not covered already. “Days That Got Away” is an instrumental song with words from the titled vocoded into the song, occasionally playing with a robotic whisper to make the song more unusual. “One Thing Left To Do” is a hopeful song about a singer who wants to commit suicide but never goes through with it. “When You’re Small” is about the band’s low point after their debut album, failing to produce another commercial hit. “Hand It Over” is a criticism about Trump being elected President and trading good things for things of lesser value. Again, it is nothing the media and everyone else has not covered in detail already.
So where did they go wrong? The band’s fame stagnated and eventually fell into obscurity after they released their self-titled second studio album, “MGMT.” The band focused less on the catchy melodies found in “Oracular Spectacular” and more on branching out to a more experimental take on rock. One positive of this album was the production value of their songs, as they were able to make them sound the way they wanted them to sound. But, if listeners want to listen to a song for a good instrumental, EDM tracks beat out Rock music’s production value by a long shot. Rap music offers better, more complex lyrics then the repeating choruses throughout “Little Dark Age’s” tracks. Ultimately, the album falls short of the expectations placed upon MGMT and the better alternatives offered by different genres of music.