Loner-turned-idealist Kevin Parker

This week Australian band Tame Impala releases their third album, Currents. The album is a follow-up to 2010 and 2012’s critically acclaimed Innerspeaker and Lonerism in a lineal sense, but presents an almost entirely different stylistic direction.

At the centre of the group is frontman Kevin Parker, also putting on his producer hat for Currents. It’s no surprise then that he is the focus of the album’s attention. Here, he has primarily written, performed, recorded, produced and mixed every track; it may as well be a solo album released under the alias of Tame Impala.

With Currents, he’s created a near perfect record, musically and conceptually – both of which differ from the band’s previous albums.

Tame Impala certainly has a strong fan base. You either like their musical style/genre, what they represent lyrically, or both. If you’re devoted to the former group, Currents might be hard to stomach. The band has clearly moved on from the 60s psychedelic influence that came to define them throughout their emergence in the music scene. Where Lonerism felt like an extension of Innerspeaker, Currents feels like an evolution.

Here, Parker isn’t trying to make ‘Tame Impala’ songs – he’s experimenting with sounds he likes and giving them the elaboration they deserve. It’s much more interesting when a band doesn’t just keep making the same music for the sake of making music. He’s also completely aware that this new direction may upset some people. In fact, Currents has this sort of meta-text that runs throughout. Parker sings about accepting change as a person and of a version of himself that he is trying to leave behind, but his lyrics are also reflective of his evolving musical style.

I can just hear them now
“How could you let us down?”

Man I know that it’s hard to digest
But baby this story ain’t so different from the rest

– “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”

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Parker reassures fans that Currents isn’t that much different from the old Tame Impala, but he’s also self-assured and doesn’t mind letting this new style overtake. In fact, it’s clear that he’s changed, but his apprehension is evidence that he still grapples with his former tendencies. Similarly, he tries to tell himself that he feels like a brand new person, and that it’s a good thing, while repressing the pessimist and self-doubt inside of him. He’s a self-confessed ‘unrealistic optimist’ – and there’s certainly a defensive attribution within Currents – but the album is much more confident than what this suggests. Instead, I’d call him an idealist – in pursuit of a practical and proper self.

Currents – Track by Track

“Let It Happen” is simply one of the most absorbing songs I’ve ever listened to. It’s built like a labyrinth of immaculate, unexpected sounds that impossibly work in complete harmony. Ingeniously, Parker left in the placeholder ‘gibberish’ vocals towards the end of the song in an effort to let it take its natural course. The track is a perfect opener for the album’s concept and interestingly provides a sort of closure for Lonerism’s penultimate “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control”. Parker chants, “maybe I was ready all along” – it’s the sort of realisation that provides the album with thematic bearing, ready to steer into the inevitable.

It’s no accident then that “Nangs” arrives next as a sort of transient, woozy palate cleanser after such a shock to the senses.

We then jump straight into “The Moment”, with its jovial electronica tune. Parker wrangles with the anticipation of opportunity and accepts the powerlessness of his circumstances.

“Yes I’m Changing” enters to frame to, yes, change the mood. An 80s synth ballad about accepting the inevitability of change in a person. Instead of letting anger take hold, Parker acknowledges he is moving on and invites his girl (or listener) to come along to.

The rock returns in “Eventually”, erupting with dense, distorted bass and big drums before morphing into a hazy, finger-snapping ballad with synths that wash over you like waves. It’s another intricate odyssey of gorgeous sounds. The song is also heartbreakingly optimistic, about a break-up and moving on, delivered with stings like: “Wish I could turn you back into a stranger”.

“Gossip” comes to cleanse the palate once again.

Leading with a funky bass hook and tinged with sugary nostalgia, “The Less I Know The Better” is most reminiscent of Parker’s recent work on Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special. It’s about an unanswered declaration of desire and the jealousy that accompanies it.

“Past Life” is this peculiar fusion of narration and soothing chorus vocals, featuring a ransom-voice-sounding spoken verse about seeing a former-admirer and the temptation of relapsing into an old ‘self’. I could do without the spoken-word story, but it adds a unique touch that accompanies a lullaby-like melody in an otherwise seductive serenade.

Here’s that word again: change. “Disciples” introduces a sepia-toned shade to the album with a brisk and buoyant leap. Parker is frustrated with the aftermath of a break-up, and expresses regret for things left unsaid.

In strolls “Cause I’m A Man” with such a gentle swagger that it comes as a surprise that its lyrics are filled with such humility. Parker mulls over his own insecurity and faults as a person, offering only one answer: he’s a man. It’s a brilliant unchauvinistic expression of vulnerability.

Lonerism die-hards breathe a sigh of relief with “Reality In Motion”, the hippie-rock song that conclusively draws the line between the old and new sound. It’s calming yet addictive, with a thematic re-expression of Parker’s nervousness in leaving behind his former self and taking a chance.

“Love/Paranoia”, as the title suggests, is about conflict. It plays without a chorus, a sort of R&B regale as Parker spills his feelings. Not entirely memorable but polished in execution.

“New Person, Same Old Mistakes” is the ultimate showdown between Parker’s pessimism and optimism that has dominated most of the record. It has a sinister bass hook with a lumbering pace, essentially conceding to the synth-filled sounds that have influenced the album’s production. The track is the most pronounced reflection of the album’s underlying meta-text and provides Currents with an intriguing, if somewhat satisfying, closure.

Best tracks: “Let It Happen”, “The Less I Know The Better”, “The Moment”, “Eventually”.

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