Tame Impala go pop. Tame Impala do disco. Tame Impala are sexist. Tame Impala channel Bee Gees on drugs. We’ve been warned hundreds of times since Kevin Parker started speaking about Currents that it was going to be different. But, before we go any further, we need to put this in perspective. Currents is many things, one of those is different but it’s not a monumental shift. We’re not talking The Black Eyed Peas adopting Fergie or The Beatles discovering LSD, instead frontman Kevin Parker is growing up and the sound of Tame Impala is effortlessly moving with him.
Currents comes five years after the West Australian’s debut LP Innerspeaker so should it really be a surprise that the record depicts an evolving band? If there’s one big change at the heart of Currents, it’s the changes in Parker’s life that have stopped him singing in metaphors and revealed an introspective, personal songwriter. “They say people don’t change but that’s bullshit, they do,” he sings on the album’s hallmark moment Yes, I’m Changing. It’s a heart-tug of a lyric that would have been a shock on the two preceding LPs but within the context of this one it sounds completely natural.
Yes, I’m Changing is the song that’s going to divide people. It echoes the Bee Gees more tender moments with a distinct clarity both lyrically and musically and as such detours into alt-rock fans most dreaded territory – pop. The song explains the aftermath of a relationship with a relaxed peacefulness. It’s immediately followed by Eventually – another song about that same relationship with Melody Prochet of Melody’s Echo Chamber. Interestingly these two songs are both the most precise and open of the album in terms of feelings. “But I know that I’ll be happier and I know you will too,” Parker sings, letting his relationship go with an elated optimism.
That same optimism runs through the whole record and brings with it an honest beauty. There are some complex ideas being explored here but when it comes down to it, Parker always traces it back to a core ethos – Let It Happen. The seven-minute epic album opener perfectly predicts the album with a relaxed gentleness and flair for experimentation. There’s electronic elements, RnB hooks and classic rock n’ roll influences that are all scattered through the album but find themselves sharing a space on Let It Happen.
The band’s RnB vibes first poked their head-out on Feels Like We Only Go Backwards but they return here with a far more prominent role. ‘Cause I’m A Man is an after-dark jam with a discreet sensuality to it. Tempo-wise Love Paranoia also sits in that lane, acting as an almost counterpart to the band’s Like A Version cover of Outkast’s Prototype. Parker’s falsetto has become a weapon and when he sings, “girl, I’m sorry,” he’s as convincingly smooth as Miguel.
The electronic moments are also more explicit too. The album’s weirdest track Past Life channels experimental Brian Eno but familiarises it with a floating, staple Tame Impala chorus. The Moment is also peppered with lightly-pulsating beats while Gossip warps with the kind of synth-work that would make Nosaj Thing envious.
That doesn’t mean that the job of the psych-guitar is made redundant. The guitar hook of The Less I Know The Better is the album’s sweet spot and probably one of the most, if not the most, triumphant part of the album. It’s that song that most people will find hard to dislike no matter what they think about the band’s “new” sound.
Diehard fans of Lonerism won’t be completely at a loss with Currents. The murky, gritty haze returns on Reality In Motion but with a much more acute feel for pop vocal melodies. The track could easily be an entry point for old fans trying to connect with the new music. If you trace back from her, you’re likely to find the psychedelic synths and crunching guitars are still there – they’re just not the main character anymore.
If Lonerism was about personal introversion then Currents is about interaction. He’s aware of how people will react to the album on closer New Person, Same Old Mistakes (“I can just hear them now, How could you let us down?”) and on Disciples he details the degradation of a friendship. This is still weed-infused music but it’s no longer atmospheric and spacey. This is real shit and surely as far as songwriting goes it’s a massive goal-score for Parker to connect on a level of honesty.
It’s never easy to follow-up an album that garnered worldwide critical praise and transformed the band to a festival mainstage player but the greatest thing about Currents is Parker sounds undeterred. He’s taken a newfound confidence and found the guts to explore musical influences that he would’ve once though too alienating for Tame Impala fans. Couple that with emotional complexity and you’ve got an album that’s heartwarming, exciting and challenging. You may get the shift in sound straight away or it might take you a while to come around but once you do you’ll recognise there’s far more to explore here than any other Tame Impala album. Better yet it sounds like they’re only moving forward and that’s exciting when a songwriter with as many ideas as Parker is in the driver’s seat.
NINE OUT OF TEN