Let’s make this clear, this goes deeper than the glitter. MGMT’s gravitation towards face-paint and feathers may well be influenced by the alien rockstar Ziggy Stardust; but more underlying similarities lead me to make the link between the New York duo and Bowie’s most famous alter-ego.
In Oracular Spectacular MGMT are what David Bowie would have sounded like if Ziggy hadn’t just ‘played guitar’ but had messed about with synths instead. Starman’s profession of a ‘hazy cosmic jive’ could be used to describe both bands sounds. MGMT’s second album, 2010’s Congratulations, represented a move towards a more guitar-based sound, drawing MGMT’s sound even closer to Ziggy and his Spiders.
Interview Magazine said that MGMT have ‘an uncanny knack for producing pop music that sounds as if it were filtered through a kaleidoscope’. One of the many light-rays passing through is undeniably the voice of Ziggy. Andrew Van Wyngarden of MGMT unleashes Bowiesque vocals on the likes of ‘Weekend Wars’ and ‘The Youth’ and this similarity of vocal tone, coupled with vivid imagery of epically zany proportions: ‘a beach that doesn’t quiver anymore’, ‘you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird’, ‘a leper messiah’ and ‘the mirror-balls throwing mold’ leaves the listener not just hearing echoes and drawing parallels, but at times almost wanting the inability to differentiate one artist from the other. The song-writing also shares the ability to offer social critique; whether it’s Bowie’s wry irony in ‘Five Years’ or MGMT’s rejection of modern celebrity culture in ‘Time to Pretend’.
Perhaps most crucially, the music of both bands explore the theme of, and are also a source of, escapism. Bowie’s crazy space fantasy was some source of respite for young music-lovers from the otherwise bleak economic and social climate of 1970s Britain. MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular was a different kind of escape, an escape from the present into the past, with a certain nostalgic sense of yearning to once again experience the beautiful, carefree innocence of childhood. ‘Picking insects off plants, no time to think of consequences’ summarizes this perfectly. The music of both bands can take you off into a distant place that indulges imagination and fantasy. Something which justifies all the glitter, really.