Tame Impala - 'Currents'
It's all change for Kevin Parker as an expansive third album swaps fuzzy guitars for full-bodied bass and vivid synths
You’ve probably heard the story about how the human body replaces all its cells over a period of about seven years. It’s pretty much bullshit, naturally, but cast your mind back to what you were doing seven years ago: was that really you? Now try five years, or even two. Admit it! You’ve changed, haven’t you?
Let’s pretend for a moment the myth is true. That would mean Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker is literally a different person from the guy who made the band’s self-titled debut EP in 2008. And, tracing the quintet’s arc from the incendiary riff-rock of early releases to the paranoid fantasia of 2012’s ‘Lonerism’ and this third studio album, that sounds entirely possible. Change, and how to deal with it, lies at the heart of ‘Currents’.
That much will be clear to anyone who’s been following the months-long teaser campaign for the Perth psych supremos’ third album. But in case there’s any lingering doubt, ‘Currents’ begins with ‘Let It Happen’, eight transcendent minutes of shifting, zen-like disco that find Parker telling himself to go with the flow and accept change: “It’s all around me, this noise, but/Not nearly as loud as the voice saying/ ‘Let it happen, let it happen’”. It’s a shock, but in a good way, overflowing with deft production trickery, caressing Daft Punk croons and tightly marshalled bursts of guitar.
Parker follows that bombshell with a dreamy, summer-scented interlude in ‘Nangs’, and another pair of walloping pop tunes in ‘The Moment’ and ‘Yes I’m Changing’. Once again, swooning synths are the order of the day, with the latter (key line: “There’s a world out there and it’s calling me/It’s calling you too”) especially a work of dazzling beauty; the layer-cake arrangement suggesting Parker as a natural heir to Brian Wilson’s studio wizardry.
At which point, we should probably bring up the elephant in the room, which is that, erm, there is no ‘Elephant’ in the room. Fuzzed-out guitars simply aren’t where Parker’s head is at now, which strikes us as a fair trade-off from a producer pushing at the outer reaches of his talent. From the crisp, hip-hop accenting on the drums to the full-bodied bass and vivd synths, ‘Currents’ is an audiophile’s wet dream.
‘Eventually’, a heartbreak anthem that may or may not be about Parker’s split from Melody’s Echo Chamber’s Melody Prochet, opens with an flurry of guitar chords, before promptly swerving into synth-pop. ‘The Less I Know The Better’ – jokingly dismissed by Parker as “dorky white disco-funk” in a recent interview – steps out on a crystalline groove that’s equal parts Hall & Oates and MJ’s ‘Thriller’, while ‘Past Life’ juxtaposes spoken-word verses with a shimmering, heat-haze chorus. ‘Cause I’m A Man’, meanwhile, is Tame’s best straight-up pop song yet, a smouldering mea culpa for all mankind that’s been ungenerously called out by some as being sexist.
Quality dips on ‘Reality In Motion’ and the maudlin ‘Love/Paranoia’, the only moments where you just think, ‘COME ON PAL, WOULD IT KILL YOU TO PUT SOME FECKING GREAT GUITARS ON THIS BIT?’. But he brings it back on course with ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, which sounds like Led Zep riffing on a vintage Aaliyah tune and tests the upper limits of Parker’s ethereal falsetto.
“Yes I’m older, yes I’m moving on”, sings our dazed-sounding protagonist on ‘Yes I’m Changing’, “and if you don’t think it’s a crime you can come along”. It’s sound advice from an artist at the peak of his powers, even if he’s no longer the guy you thought you knew. And that’s no myth.
Director: Kevin Parker
Record label: Fiction
Release date: 17 Jul, 2015