Over the past decade Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Tame Impala, has firmly established himself as one of our most vital and visionary songwriters. His lofty creative standing has only been boosted further by the February release of the fourth Tame Impala album ‘The Slow Rush’, a stylish, contemplative and frequently mind-bending psych-dance listening experience.
And, of course, the 12 tracks are now all eligible for consideration in one of the great music debates of our times: which Tame Impala song is the greatest?
Excluding all outside collaborations, live versions, remixes and hidden-track jam sessions (sorry, ’30 Minutes With Mathew Saville’), here’s NME‘s countdown of every Tame Impala song in order of greatness.
With additional words from Thomas Smith and El Hunt
63She Just Won’t Believe Me
A perfectly fine but skippable synth interlude on ‘Lonerism’ which is almost saved by Kevin finally picking his guitar up, but it’s too late — after just 57 seconds, it’s all over.
Best known to Tame Impala fans for: a) soundtracking the mid-show interlude on the band’s last tour when that giant spaceship-sized lighting rig turned in mid-air, and b) being the anticipatory signpost when listening to ‘Currents’ that ‘The Less I Know The Better’ is coming up next.
This very The Doors-meets-Cream creation was one of the first-ever Tame Impala songs to be recorded, and only featured on the very first (and now extremely rare) self-titled EP back in 2008. It sounds like it’s been dug up from a 1969 time capsule, which is no bad thing — but it’s not exactly the Tame Impala we’ve all come to know and love since.
A stop-start knockabout of a tune that you could imagine Jimi Hendrix having a bit of fun with. Kevin’s just having fun here: at one stage he quite literally announces “here comes the chorus…” before launching into a dreamy guitar solo. Not too surprising, then, that it only made the B-Sides and Remixes accompaniment to ‘Innerspeaker’.
59Slide Through My Fingers
Taken from the second ‘Tame Impala EP’, the swirling ‘Slide Through My Fingers’ is the Tame Impala of a bygone era where guitars, guitars and more guitars — the woozier the better — were the order of the day.
Another cut from the ‘Tame Impala EP’, ‘Skeleton Tiger’ starts promisingly with a Rolling Stones-style pomp (with additional sitar-effect guitars) before descending into an ultimately directionless psych jam. Decent, but not entirely memorable.
Three-in-a-row for efforts from the ‘Tame Impala’ EP — this iTunes exclusive is most memorable for the studio sort-of-argument between Kevin and Tame Impala live member Jay Watson. “It was our 135th take and Jay just felt like screwing it up for us,” Kevin joked when asked about why they kept the interaction in the final version.
56I Don’t Really Mind
The kind of Tame track that, while it doesn’t really go anywhere, has the kind of melody that manages to glue itself to the inside of your head for a looong time afterwards. Cheers, Kev.
A cover of Blue Boy’s 1997 Top 10 single which features as the B-side to ‘Sundown Syndrome’, this insistent, bluesy take on ‘Remember Me’ used to be a live favourite — but, since falling out of setlist circulation in 2011, it’s been somewhat left behind.
Another magic eye-soundtracking interlude that we wish went further than it actually does — especially when that drumbeat bursts through the wall to join the (brief) party.
53Forty-One Mosquitoes Flying in Formation
A rough diamond from the ‘Tame Impala EP’, but we still wanna know why Kevin was a) keeping a pet cockroach and b) let it die of starvation?
This ‘Lonerism’-era B-side foreshadows ‘Currents’ love affair with the synthesizer — yet isn’t quite good enough to have made the final cut on either of those two Tame Impala albums.
Released as a stand-alone single in 2009, ‘Sundown Syndrome’ could’ve easily lined up on the tracklist for ‘Innerspeaker’ with its alluring loud-quiet dynamic and shuffling psych rhythms.
Acid house rules! Much like ‘Gossip’ or ‘Disciples’, ‘Glimmer’ is another example of Kevin leaving us agonisingly wanting more by throwing his very own two-minute rave on ‘The Slow Rush’. The vocal sample at the start cries “crank the bass up!” and it’s hard to disagree — we want more!
A rare lyric-less Tame Impala tune, this ‘Currents’ B-side really does crank the bass up. Ideal for gym work-outs, power-walking your way through packed city streets or manning actual powerlines, presumably.
This absorbing ‘Innerspeaker’ track sees Kevin singing about relationship anxiety (“every now and then it feels like in all of the universe, there is nobody for me”), but musically it doesn’t particularly develop in the way that we’ve since come to expect from the so often enveloping Tame Impala sound.
The crashing entry of the drums at the 3:05 mark is the high point of this reflective B-Side from the ‘Currents’ era, which sees Kevin getting existential about “facing the unknown” after ordering an Uber (which he promptly gets into at the end of the track).
46List of People (To Try and Forget About)
‘Currents’ was the moment Kev embraced the world with collective-minded euphoria, but this bonus track proves the loner may never be completely banished. Both spiteful and sorrowful, there are moments of real genius (that beat juke at 1:56 still sends us wayward) in an otherwise doomy off-cut.
A swirling instrumental from ‘Innerspeaker’ that goes all galeforce nine at the four-minute mark as Kevin cooks up a titular storm in his home studio.
Kevin’s marriage last year to his wife Sophie is somewhat addressed on this dripping-with-synths cut from ‘The Slow Rush’. “Let’s drink this magic potion of love and devotion,” Kevin, falsetto in full flow, implores. “And then let’s see how it goes…” The tipple at the wedding reception must’ve tasted… funky.
Wedged bang-on halfway on ‘The Slow Rush’, these five-and-half minutes highlight some of that record’s underlying issues. Too reliant on the overarching concept of time, and with a meandering structure, there are few rewards for those who stick it out the entire length.
42Sun’s Coming Up
‘Lonerism’s ambient exit music is very… unlike Tame Impala. Performed for the most part on piano, Kevin mournfully sings about love and his late father (“playing his guitar, while he’s dying of cancer / Oh my father, why won’t you answer?“) before the track dissipates into a quite beautiful reverb guitar solo and an actual recording of Kevin “walking from the car park to my local beach in Perth”.
“You can hear my walking on the tar and then the wind blowing, and then finally the water where you can hear waves and a girl talking before it chops off,” he told MTV in 2012. “I guess it’s recording my being alone even though I’m not.”
41One More Year
Kevin’s mountaintop sermon in the final third of ‘One More Year’ is not just ‘The Slow Rush”s first truly brilliant moment (“Four seasons, one reason / One way, one year”) but also a prophetic one, unfortunately anticipating the length of time until most of the planet has a chance to hear this song live. The wait will be worth it, undoubtedly.
40It Might Be Time
Amid the wailing synth-produced siren and bombastic drums, a clear Supertramp influence on ‘It Might Be Time’ emerges through the style and sound of its keyboards. “I get a big buzz out of their music,” Kevin said of the Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies-founded group back in 2012. “It’s got that explosive quality, that big sound with introspective lyrics. I love that. They’re exploding outwards, inwardly.”
39Be Above It
“Gotta be above it, gotta be above it, gotta be above it…” These initially whispered vocals, soon to be joined by non-stop bass-snare, wobbling synths and startling guitar effects, are music to the ears of any Tame Impala fan, given ‘Be Above It’s important status in the discography as the ‘Lonerism’ opener.
A tad overlong, this ‘Slow Rush’ ballad kicks off with lush instrumentals and layered vocal harmonies as Kevin shares his optimism through the track’s key message of steadfastness: “But strictly speaking, I’m still on track.”
37The Bold Arrow of Time
Initially kicking around as an unreleased recording, ‘The Bold Arrow Of Time’ eventually ended up making an appearance on ‘Innerspeaker’. A hulking great slab of psychedelic-tinged blues in the vein of Cream and Radio Moscow, this is Tame Impala at their head-banging, oddball best — with a strangely meditative outro from Jay Watson and Kevin Parker tacked on at the end. Not to mention that the head-spinning title makes reference to an as-yet-unsolved theory about the theoretical passage of time (shout-out to all the physics heads).
36Yes I’m Changing
A swaying, hands-in-the-air moment on ‘Currents’ where Kevin addresses his demons, emotional growth and embracing his post-‘Lonerism’ fame. “I think I’ve found at last and I can’t always hide away / Curse indulgence and despise the fame,” he admits. Solitude doesn’t seem quite so blissful when there’s “a world out there and it’s calling my name…”
35Lost in Yesterday
While we do have plenty of time for Kevin Parker fronting a 70s-era wedding band (see above), the dancefloor-friendly ‘Lost In Yesterday”s real joy is the track itself. Try not to tap your foot along to its tumbling drums, hum the guitar riff to yourself on a walk to the shops or absently-mindedly sing “you’ve been diggin’ it up like Groundhog Day” while washing the dishes.
One of those Tame Impala tracks that manages to swallow your mind, body and soul whole with its mix of clattering drums, unceasing guitar vs synth duels and Kevin’s reverb-drenched vocals.
33Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control
This flourishing six-minute epic — that, to some, is ‘Lonerism’s real climax — is a “cymbal-crashing moment of fried psychedelia that’s so Beatles-y you expect to see the Yellow Submarine float by,” as NME noted in the 2012 album review.
32Runway, Houses, City, Clouds
‘Innerspeaker’s seven-minuter is a proper Wall of Sound-style assault on the senses from the off: the first four minutes is all swirling distortion and booming drums as Kevin struggles to make himself heard above the cacophony. The break into part two at 4:20, though, is the smooth calm after the storm as the guitar feedback retreats and gentle piano keys join the fray.
31One More Hour
The closing track on ‘The Slow Rush’ starts out as arena ballad-rock as Tame Impala get — expectant piano notes and splashy cymbal builds giving way to a series of power chords and powerful ‘In The Air Tonight’-style drumming — before settling into an airy closing moment as floating vocal melodies swirl and even a cursory guitar solo is thrown in.
Originally recorded as an instrumental in a beachside studio in Western Australia, it was only when the song was mixed by Parker and Dave Friedman in wintry New York that the song’s lyrics came to him: “I’d sit outside in the snow and try to think. I was literally losing my brain”. The resulting lyrics pine for (warmer?) days where his senses are “back to where they’re meant to be”. Maybe just stick some gloves on next time.
Expressive percussion and a slinking bassline lead the way on this sleek R&B ‘Slow Rush’ cut before a bright, up-tempo piano line takes control. The Tame Impala discoball is in busy rotation on ‘The Slow Rush’, with spritely numbers like ‘Breathe Deeper’ continuing to swell the numbers of those on the dancefloor.
28Cause I’m a Man
The laidback ”Cause I’m A Man’ see Kevin seemingly poking holes at toxic masculinity by declaring “’cause I’m a man, woman / Don’t always think before I do” in the chorus.
“It is [defiant], but it’s also apologetic,” Kevin explained to Under The Radar in 2015. “When I say it’s tongue-in-cheek, I’m not saying it’s insincere. The apology is sincere, but the excuse of saying, “Oh, it’s because I’m a man” is the tongue-in-cheek bit. I hope people don’t see it as a sexist in any way. That would upset me.”
27Music to Walk Home By
Paul McCartney once sung about finding his way upstairs on the bus and lighting up “a smoke” (“And somebody spoke, and I went into a dream…“). When Macca finally finished his bus trip, ‘Music To Walk Home By’ would’ve been a perfect hazy accompaniment for his dazed meander home.
Something of a Marmite Tame Impala tune, this. A trippy Jekyll & Hyde creation which details with pitch-shifted vocals an eventful trip to the dry cleaners (“Thursday, 12:30… I’ve got a pretty solid routine these days“), ‘Past Life’ descends head-first down-the-rabbit-hole to take a woozy trip into memories past and loves lost.
25Reality in Motion
Peppy and upbeat with the vague air of a day-time soap opera theme tune, ‘Reality in Motion’ sits towards the end of ‘Currents’ and finds Parker – who so often writes about solitude – trying to find connection instead. “I’m edging closer, shivers all over,” he sings, faltering in the corner, “it’s way too real, I’m way too sober.”
With their previous between-album single ‘Patience’, Tame Impala put on their dancing shoes, channelling Barry White’s ‘Love Unlimited Orchestra’, and strutting through a series of big, existential, artistic questions. Their next release ‘Borderline’ – which later featured on ‘The Slow Rush’ in reworked form – is the musical equivalent of taking a mid-night breather and looking on as chaos unfurls. Part-garden centre chill-out compilation album, part-squelching R&B it encapsulates Kevin Parker’s slightly skew-whiff take on pop.
23Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?
Thwacking snares, thumping and percussive plunks of bass, and a woozy undercurrent that sounds like two truck-mounted synthesisers drag-racing in different directions, ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?’ is the hypnotic centrepiece to ‘Innerspeaker’ – urging for a final decision while forever running around in circles.
‘Currents’ penultimate track is built on distrust. On it, Parker is indeed a paranoid boy: he wants to check his partner’s texts before lamenting that he once had the “world… right where I wanted” – but suspicion has got the best of him. By the end, as the music devolves into an ‘80s inspired slow-jam, he realises his mistakes, but it may well be too late. A humbling heartbreaker.
Absent from the Tame Impala setlist for over half a decade, this 2012 iTunes bonus track squirmed its way back into live contention during their 2019 run to provide the mellow yin to ‘Elephant’s aggressive yan in the tour’s fleeting guitar-driven moments. It earned its place, though: both on record and in-person, the slippery guitar riff lives up to the rock gods name-checked in the song’s title.
If there has ever been a gigantic misstep from Parker, it would be that this song doesn’t even bruise the two-minute mark. Acting as a gripping interlude between two of ‘Currents’ drearier moments (‘Past Life’ and ‘Cause I’m A Man’), ‘Disciples’ flits between garage-rock and beachside dream-pop in a remarkably short space of time. Oh, and that tape click heading into the song’s second half? Phenomenal.
Bridging the gap between ‘Innerspeaker’ and poppier climes, ‘Endors Toi’ (which translates from French to “go to sleep”) lingers in the woozy, heavy-eyed moments before catching 40 winks. Erratic drum fills never quite settle into a steady pulse, a screeching hint of synthesiser flaps frantically in the background like a moth taking the piss. “In the morning you’ll find, real life was such a grind,” Parker sings, and in a toss-up between the mundane duties of real life and the limitless silliness of a dream, the latter wins out. Time to invest in a memory foam mattress.
18Desire Be Desire Go
Originally recorded for Tame Impala’s self-titled debut EP, ‘Desire Be Desire Go’ also made the cut for debut album ‘Innerspeaker’. It’s bolshy yet strangely soothing at the same time: Parker previously told fans in a Reddit AMA that he fancies turning it into a “feel good hit of the summer”, but when left alone, it’s a spiky, unruly rock’n’roll brute.
17Is It True
The ‘Less I Know The Better’ of ‘The Slow Rush’. Also reigniting the same groove heard on Parker’s collaboration with Theophilus London, where the pair revamped Steve Monite’s cult boogie classic ‘Only You’, this fourth-album cut is one of their tightest, most addictive pop songs to date.
Those skittering drums, that underlying funky-as-fuck bassline, Kevin telling us “it’s getting closer” (what is? What?! Tell us, Kev!) — living in the moment never felt as good as when it’s soundtracked by this sublime ‘Currents’ cut.
15Keep on Lying
‘Keep on Lying’ certainly sounds like a psychedelic love song – Supremes-ish beats jostling for space with mournful waves of organs. And yet, in keeping with the isolated dilemmas of ‘Lonerism’ – a record largely about trying to dampen down the constant whirls of doubt – it’s really a sweet and saccharine ode to deception. “There is nothing I can do,” Parker sings, resigned. “I’ll just keep on lying to you.”
Even as his protagonist changes tact later on, it’s hard to believe it: “I guess I’ll go and tell you just as soon as I get to the end of this song,” he shrugs, letting the track drag on, and on. Procrastination has never sounded so appealing.
14It Is Not Meant to Be
For many, this was the first Tame track to ever bless their ears. ‘Innerspeaker”s opener ‘It Is Not Meant To Be’ is a slow-burning psych-jam that sets the tone for an other-wordly collection of tunes. With Lennon-esque vocals and a swirling bassline, it’s not just a fine example of Parker’s mood-setting ability but also a subtle brag about his masterful technical skills in the studio.
13Why Won’t They Talk to Me?
The sleeve art for ‘Lonerism’ – taken by Kevin Parker on a film camera – peers through the iron gates of Luxembourg Garden in Paris, the city where Tame Impala’s mastermind finished making his second full-length.
‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me?’ plods around what is possibly the French capital catching snatches of other people’s animated conversations: in one delicious lyrical snippet, it gets properly sulky. “But I don’t even care about it anyway,” Parker protests, “I wouldn’t listen to a word any of them say/ They just talk about themselves all day/ One day I’ll be a star and they’ll be sorry.” Clearly this is a textbook case of ‘the musician doth protest too much’ – perhaps that’s the punchline. This spacey cut desperately craves connection, and can’t be bothered to make the effort at the same time. Highly relatable.
Seemingly rushed out in time for Tame Impala’s Coachella headline slot in April 2019, this disco-flecked song bafflingly didn’t make the final cut of ‘The Slow Rush’ when released the following year. It’s a stone-cold slapper: combining a powerful piano riff, bouncing grooves and additional percussion, ‘Patience’ is a frustratingly overlooked example of Parker’s deft hand at making pure-pop and keeping a freaky-edge to it. Marvellous stuff.
11New Person, Same Old Mistakes
This ‘Currents’ song is so perfectly formed, executed and addictive that when it featured on Rihanna’s ‘Anti’ in 2016 she changed precisely fuck-all — aside from swapping out Kev’s vocals for her own, tweaking the title and adding an extra 35-seconds of instrumental. Basically, she made it her karaoke anthem. That’s how good it is.
10Half Full Glass of Wine
The hulking great riff that powers ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’ had been stuck in Kevin Parker’s head since about 2004 – he originally committed it to tape on a demo of ‘You Haven’t Been Telling the Truth’ (with pre-Tame Impala band The Dee Dee Dums).
The finished product finds Parker sipping on Savvy-B and waiting for the door to open: when the clock strikes midnight, he goes full EastEnders villain. “Leave me no choice but to plot my revenge,” he sings menacingly before a ludicrous drum solo takes the wheel. Live, this one is truly unbeatable.
A genuine heart-breaker, this. For better or worse, Parker’s lyrics are usually obtuse and/or vague musings on life, love and the movements our brains make in-between — but ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’ is as raw as they come. Informed by the fractured relationship with his now-deceased father, Parker reflects on the childhood disagreements and the subsequent healing process. “A lot of things I didn’t understand about him when he was alive [are] things that I do now,” he told NME in a recent interview. “Not being able to tell them that – it’s difficult.”
They’re even harder to listen to. He wants to tell his father about visiting Abbey Road recording studios, the time “that I had Mick Jagger on the phone”, and reflect on all the achievements his dad may have missed since the family fell apart, and now his untimely death. The music behind is almost an afterthought to this sincere and rare piece of lyrical writing from a modern-day master.
Every self-respecting festival headliner needs a hulking great ballad up their sleeves – and for Tame Impala, that moment is ‘Eventually’. A compassionate kind of break-up song about choosing to go through heartbreak in order to reach sunnier territory on the other side, classic old-timey influences linger at the heart of Tame Impala’s hallmark wooziness. A hint of Todd Rundgren even gets a look-in on this slow-burney ‘Currents’ track – which Kevin Parker, the clever git, composed while hitching a lift on the back of a scooter.
Aside from ‘Elephants’ tub-thumping riff, this is undeniably Parker’s catchiest guitar moment. ‘Mind Mischief’ isn’t afraid to walk around in circles, and this laidback lick is the one leading it. Constantly circling the drain, it’s only during the song’s final third that there’s even an attempt to integrate new elements into the mix – but it all comes back to that hypnotic guitar line.
6Solitude Is Bliss
Company’s OK, but solitude: well, when it sounds like this ‘Innerspeaker’ track, it is bliss. “It’s the most sassy, confident-sounding song,” Kev said of the song. “I like to think of it as coked-up Tame Impala.” Special mention to Tame Impala’s now-live keyboardist Jay Watson for his excellent drumming here.
Until ‘Let It Happen’ shimmied onto the scene three years later, this was Parker’s biggest songwriting flex. Flitting between two distinct melodies like a pair of warring siblings, there’s a constant battle between a driving piano beat and a burning desire to wash it all away – like watching a tide coming in and out to conquer a sturdy sandcastle.
When played live – as heard on 2014’s aptly titled live album ‘Live Versions’ – the performance often breaches the 8-minute mark, with Parker wilfully toying with the crowd as he lets them applaud at a premature end. Parker is not the arrogant, sycophantic type, but even he knows that he deserves quite a few rounds of applause for this monumental creation.
4Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
Rolling together all of Tame Impala’s chief talents into one big gooey pop mass, ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’’ contains a catchy as fuck chorus while a dense murk of squelching bass and impulsive drumming wreaks chaos beneath the shimmer.
When Kevin Parker first penned this brute of a lighters-in-the-air anthem he was adamant he had written a Backstreet Boys song — and doing so seemed to flick a switch. On ‘Currents’ Kevin fully lent into his outward-looking side, shifting Tame Impala from scrappy psych outliers to bona fide festival headliners in the process. It all started here.
Its days as Tame Impala’s signature track may have faded in this post-‘Currents’ landscape, but this party-starting serving of psychedelic glam-rock will always be beloved by fans of Kevin Parker. For those who missed the buzz of ‘Innerspeaker’, ‘Elephant’ was more likely than not the usual introduction to Tame Impala and the subsequent gateway to ‘Lonerism’ and Parker’s sound beyond.
And with good reason, too. Kevin shredding on his guitar while positively dancing across his effects board? Check. A synth-led instrumental mid-section that twists your melon and creates enough energy to spin a thousand disco balls? Check. Memorable lyrics about a big-shot loser getting his collar grabbed and crying the whole way home? Well, we didn’t know we needed that, but check! There’s even time for a mini drum solo at the end — and somehow, it’s all squeezed into three minutes and 30 seconds of sheer brilliance.
2Let It Happen
In the lead-up to ‘Currents’ there’d been hints that a rave masterpiece was on the cards – the vibey ‘Beverly Laurel’ and the expanded live version of ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ indicated what it could sound like. But ‘Let It Happen’ was a shock, regardless.
Released as the lead single for ‘Currents’, this chest-thumping and arm-pumping 7-minute wig-out remains Tame Impala’s magnum opus. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, there’s a new golden nugget to discover each time – the loose structure, dense vocals and laser-sharp riffs give off the impression of a masterful producer remixing and reworking the song at a sunrise rave.
No wonder it lends itself so well to opening the live show – which we affectionately dubbed a half-speed “slow rave” – where the confetti cannons are released within five minutes of stage time. It’s a bolshy move, but with a song this miraculous we’re not going to stand in the way – we’re already making confetti-angels on the floor.
1The Less I Know the Better
You can try all you like, but it’s simply impossible to resist ‘The Less I Know The Better’. Future music scientists (that will be a vocation) will come to study the shining jewel in the ‘Currents’ crown and marvel at its myriad of spellbinding disco-pop properties. That bass-y riff (actually recorded using a guitar with an octave pedal), the relatable lovelorn lyrical subject matter (fucking Trevor), the subtle instrumental flourishes which crop up every now and then (uplifting synths, the church bells, the ringtone guitars) — what more could you want?
Those scientists will then be able to successfully determine that yes, this was the moment Tame Impala became one of the most genuine, inventive and wonderful bands of our era. What a bassline, what a song, what a band. Bravo, Kevin Parker.