Tame Impala ‘Currents’ – Review

21 Jul

I bet the first thing you thought when you first heard Tame Impala was – ‘doesn’t he sound like John Lennon?’ After that you were probably struck by how authentic the music sounded – perfectly mimicking the sonics of 60s psych rock – while simultaneously expanding and reimagining its possibilities. On ‘Currents’ Kevin Parker still sounds remarkably like the late great Beatle, and still authentically mimics the sounds of classic rock. This time though Tame Impala are being more subversive and less respectful. More experimental and less guarded. More pop minded and less obtuse. Tame Impala remain the same band – which is to say, Kevin Parker (who wrote, recorded, mixed and performed on the entirety of the record) is the same person. But as he makes explicitly clear at several points – he’s changing.

Where ‘Lonerism’ played pretty closely to the psych-rock rule book, ‘Currents’ casts its eye across many genres. Yacht Rock, Synth Pop, Soul, R&B and even Disco are all clear influences. Kevin Parker’s great skill is in making all these genres, that once seemed so distinct, sound like natural bedfellows. He makes you reconsider the relationship between styles and instruments but never at the expense of the songwriting, which is where he really puts emphasis.

It’s a fairly massive transition from the sound of ‘Lonerism’ to the sound of ‘Currents’ but it doesn’t particularly feel like it. In fact Parker makes it seem like the most natural evolution in the world, in the same way Bon Iver went from acoustic guitar to gigantic band arrangements without anyone raising an eyelid. Tame Impala succeed for exactly the same reasons as Bon Iver. firstly, the most distinctive thing about them has always been Parker’s voice and his crystalline melodies. Both are as distinctive as ever on ‘Currents’. Secondly, he’s such an accomplished musician and producer that he makes everything sound so effortless. It’s quite an accomplishment to switch from guitar based rock to synth based pop and make it sound so natural – intensified by the fact that he did it all on his own.

Like ‘Lonerism’, ‘Currents’ main thematic concern is romantic failure. Parker isn’t one to dissect how it ended or why but rather he’s interested in the aftermath, and the effect it has on the psyche. In other words, he’s always been a bit self interested, even selfish, and that is one of the big takeaways from ‘Currents’. ‘I know that I’ll be happier / and I know you will too’, he adds almost as an afterthought. He wants to see the girl again because there is so much he wants to tell her. He was doing fine till he saw her with someone else and spends at least one song trying to break the couple up. But he only left her in the first place because he saw a better future for himself! His reasoning for acting like a massive Dbag? Cause he’s a man. At least he’s honest.

Elsewhere he’s spouting off new age nonsense that doesn’t really convince: ‘let it happen’, ‘maybe I was ready all along’, ‘yes I’m changing’, ‘finally taking flight’, ‘feel like a brand new person’. Maybe he wants to be better. Or maybe it’s just the drugs talking. Anyway, we don’t listen to Tame Impala for a master class in lyricism. It’s the melodies we want, and boy are THEY masterful. It’s always difficult to describe melodies, even more so when we’re dealing with sublime ones like this; melodies that glide , fall and rise with a deftness of touch that surely belongs to angels. Melodies that are soulful and pop minded and feel both ancient and brand new at the same time. Melodies that never seem constructed or the end result of a thought process and never ever feel like hard work.

He’s just as nimble with the musical side of things. Kevin Parker is better with the fine details than any other musician currently making music (except for maybe Daft Punk). He knows how to make the bass sound like Paul Mccartney’s circa ‘Revolver’. He knows how to get the hush hush 10cc backing vocals. He knows which synth to use where and how to mix them so that they sounds perfect. It speaks volumes that I didn’t miss his guitar once when I first listened to the album. When it does show up, on the funky ‘Less I Know the Better’ and in the shimmering coda to ‘Love/Paranoia’ it sounds absolutely vital to those moments, not just an accessory.

‘Currents’ is an exemplary album in many respects but it isn’t perfect. Its flaws are all the more niggling, because so many things about it ARE perfect. The melodies, which as I’ve described are heavenly, meander in a typical stoner rock fashion that seems to contradict the production at times. The slacker style would be fine on ‘Innerspeaker’ but as the emphasis here is very much on ‘pop’ you just wish there was a little more bite. The beats snap and click with immaculate precision and so the melodies feel slightly at odds with that. Where is the intensity? There is also a lack of intensity in the tempos, which are all virtually identical; at thirteen tracks long the album falls in to a rather sleepy pattern that it never really wakes out of. Are the two interludes necessary? Would the slow building and slow releasing ‘Let It Happen’ be more dynamic and impactful if it was edited? Also, the lethargic, spoken word ‘Past Lives’ puts a roadblock to the album’s momentum that it never really recovers from and you end up feeling the album would be a much better pop record if it was ten minutes lighter.

These things don’t stop ‘Currents’ from being a great album, although I do confess to preferring the energy and dynamics of ‘Lonerism’. But you have to credit Parker with a degree of self-awareness – he is changing, and in almost ever respect it’s for the better. He is quite simply an artist at the peak of his powers, heads and shoulders above anyone else in his field right now.

8.5/10

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