Album Review: Tame Impala, ‘Currents’
If you became a Tame Impala fan based on bandleader Kevin Parker's penchant for guitar-based psychedelia, you're in for a potentially unpleasant shock with Currents, the band's third full-length offering.
Going in, you should know that guitars are almost completely absent from this new set of material. When guitars do appear, they're treated so heavily as to be almost unrecognizable as the instruments they are. In a nutshell, Parker has embraced the synthesizer in a big way here and, although Currents doesn't exactly extend a middle-finger to his fanbase, it is clearly the work of an artist who is looking to get out from the constraints of the sound which has come to define his work.
Listening to Currents from start to finish, it's remarkable that nothing even resembling a hook turns up until the ninth track, a delightfully giddy singalong titled "Disciples" that Parker cuts off prematurely after just a minute and 45 seconds -- barely enough time for the listener to get familiar with the song before it's over. At the other end of the spectrum, the album kicks off with "Let It Happen," which clocks in at a whopping seven minutes and 45 seconds. Clearly, Parker has thrown the three-minute pop formula out the window, but he also sounds carefree in doing so -- not like an artist who's trying to be obtuse and make a "difficult" record.
Moreover, while Parker embraces shades of blue-eyed soul, '70s funk (check the bass tone, for example), new wave and Washed Out-style chillwave, his songwriting retains an essential quality that proves what listeners of his previous two albums should have picked up on all along: Parker's actual songs can work regardless of whatever stylistic accessories he chooses. On 2010's Innerspeaker and 2012's Lonerism, he just so happened to favor a retro-leaning psychedelic rock style. Here, by stripping the guitars from the arrangements, he reminds us that he is, first and foremost, a songwriter.
Yes, Parker recorded, produced and mixed this entire album on his own, but it's unfair to relegate him to the status of studio-tinkering texturalist. As much, for example, as he pushes these new songs past the point of easy verse-chorus payoffs, he's never done anything as heartfelt, vulnerable or unapologetically beautiful as the ballad "Cause I'm a Man." And his romantic streak -- both in terms of love and in the broader sense of the word -- buoys this album where it gets challenging. With Currents, Parker takes tremendous risks, but that's exactly what an artist of his ability and accomplishments should be doing by this stage in his career.
At times, Parker doesn't venture far enough out on a limb. Aside from the aforementioned "Disciples," the song "Nangs" also sputters out after less than two minutes. Still, the fact that Parker takes these risks while also serving up sublime falsetto-crooned moments -- moments bound to wedge themselves forever to the audience's memories of life changes, love affairs and road trips -- represents a rather dramatic triumph.
"They say people don't change, but that's bulls--- / They do," sings Parker on the aptly-titled "Yes I'm Changing." His audience should applaud him for doing so, and for what it says about where he's capable of going next.