Currents, Tame Impala
It’s hard to listen to Currents, Tame Impala’s lastest album, and not be mesmerized by its cascading reverb and whispering vocals. Tame Impala could be described as the love child of Beach House and Jamie xx, as sung by John Lennon, with the cultish hippie fan base of the Grateful Dead. In all accounts, these attributes sound like a deadly combination destined for success, yet Currents leaves something to be desired. That is not to say that the album isn’t impressive or enjoyable – it just hasn’t lived up to the hype.
Before the hype and international fame, Tame Impala began as the humble home studio project of Australian Kevin Parker, the mastermind songwriter and performer of the group. The group built up a large fan base with its debut album Innerspeaker (2010), but it was its sophomore album, Lonerism (2012), that helped the band reach critical acclaim, receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album. Lonerism was a major hit, including instant classics such as “Elephant” and “It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”
Knowing that the band avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, Tame Impala fans were eager for the release of Currents, fully realizing that it would be hard to release anything that could compare to Lonerism. The earlier album really is that good: distorted guitars, interesting melodies and candid lyrics on feeling alone in a crowd of people, all working together in seamless harmony. In my opinion, Currents was set up for failure. It should come as no surprise that when it was released, many fans were left disappointed.
It would have been virtually impossible to follow up Lonerism with an equally stellar album. That being said, Currents is still a good album, with plenty of pleasant tunes that make you drift into that oblivion that all Tame Impala fans know and love. But while it is a “good” album, it’s very different from Innerspeaker and Lonerism. By comparison, Currents sounds like the lazier, synthed-up cousin who is intelligent but smokes too much weed and reads Kant for fun.
While there is general consensus that Parker made some interesting choices on the album as he tries to transition his sound, Currents is inferior to its predecessor. Half of the album blends together into one psychedelic pop rock mish-mosh, with many of the songs lacking serious difference. Parker takes fewer musical risks within the album itself, and it shows in the boring melodies of stand-in songs like “Love/Paranoia” and “Reality in Motion.”
There are, however, a couple of songs on the album that are musically quite impressive. “’Cause I’m a Man” and “Let It Happen” are so interestingly composed that one must give credit where credit is due. It’s in these songs where you can really see Parker’s growth as a musician as well as a music producer. Even if you find the music itself unimpressive, Currents shows Parker’s incredible ability to manipulate sound. Even the musically boring songs on the album are so well mixed that they don’t sound half bad, and that is a feat in itself.
It’s clear that Parker is trying to transition from psych-rock to synth-pop, and if you can look at the music through that lens, it’s hard to see it as anything but successful. Currents is unapologetically a pop album, and I think that is why so many fans, myself included, are left both intrigued and confused by this sudden shift.
I’d be interested to see where Tame Impala will go next and how far it will stray from its rock origins. While Currents is a solid album, it brings into question whether or not Tame Impala will be able to retain its original fan base or original luster over time. It’s not nearly as hard to make a great album as it is to have a long and successful, ever-evolving career.
This is a critical junction for Kevin Parker, but the question isn’t even whether or not Currents will affect his career trajectory – he is on the up and up, and that won’t change even if he decides to release a Nickelback cover album. What is in question is whether or not Tame Impala will continue to be that unique, awe-inspiring act that seems to be a genre of its own. Only time will tell.