Kevin Parker’s super-slick third album kicks out the 60s jams and trips instead on the 80s
Cannily timed just as summer seems set, the new Tame Impala bounds over the high-voltage perimeter fence with all the alert, wide-eyed freshness of a sugar-high Bambi. Musical polymath and Aussie phenomenon Kevin Parker has left the rest of the 21st century’s future-psych explorers trailing in his wake since 2012’s ‘Lonerism’, as 80 million-plus Spotify plays attest, but some of his record label’s hyperbole suggests a significant progression from that astonishing breakthrough.
And they’re right, although the most apparent progression is one that eschews the loopy psych-rock elements of ‘Lonerism’ and replaces them with something that sounds far more geared to the mainstream. This shouldn’t be a surprise given Parker’s obvious singularity, but somehow it is.
So the reaction to ‘Currents’ should prove interesting, as it’s difficult not to imagine many commentators wondering out loud whether the big time is being consciously gunned for here. Especially during the moments when teenage optimism is knowingly referenced with a shrewdness that only someone with a record collection that still includes discs with neon airbrushed, soft-focus cover art could evoke. A far likelier explanation, however, is that the wilfully self-contained Parker decided – even as far back as when he was touring ‘Lonerism’ – to issue a statement of intent to ward off the pigeon-holers.
The first track that hits as the biggest departure, the one that is sure to leave the stoners and day-trippers wondering whether Parker is their friend after all, is ‘The Moment’. Its finger-snapping, uptempo soul is way smoother and more commercially-oriented than anything Parker has done so far. The bouncily reverbed, synth-treated vocal chorus sounds as sweetly blue-eyed as anything a Hall & Oates-aping Pharrell Williams could have dreamed up.
‘Yes I’m Changing’ states the title of the fourth track in – and it’s impossible to disagree. The simple, faux-ethereal synth organ chords unashamedly reference the 80s with their last dance vibes and even recall a certain Bryan Adams song that “enjoyed” an interminable stay at Number One back in the day. It’s a long way from anything on Tame Impala’s 2010 debut, ‘Innerspeaker’, that’s for sure, and almost as far from any of the joyful lysergic kaleidoscopy that made the predecessor to ‘Currents’ such a rollicking great listen.
There is still much psych-washed, exhilarating beauty to behold here, though the hues and emphases are a lot subtler. Both the propulsive, bass drum driven ‘Reality In Motion’ and the robotic, nutty, spoken word vocoder of ‘Past Life’, with its swirling keyboards and soaring backing vocals, engage in a way that devotees who’ve been in from the start will appreciate.
But it’s the outstanding ‘Let It Happen’ that really sticks. Slick, synth heavy and running at just under eight minutes, it’s a quietly epic and exploratory beauty, lyrically ambiguous yet somehow sanguine, and the tantalising openness is hinted at and revisited several times elsewhere, particularly on the equally brilliant ‘Cause I’m A Man’. Its downtempo introspection and irresistible chorus melody (“Cause I’m a man, woman / I’ll never be as strong as you”) is high-order, r&b-inclined modern synthpop as much as anything else and it sounds like a hit.
If ‘Currents’ does end up delivering the sizeable pay cheque that Parker could have only ever dreamed of when he was sealed in his Fremantle home studio putting the finishing touches to ‘Innerspeaker’ five years ago, then who knows what he might deliver next time around? Really, who knows?