There is a long history of artists radically changing direction after their most acclaimed release. In most cases, whether it be Radiohead’s Kid A or Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, the narrative surrounding the album has been the same: some laud it as a brave and necessary evolution and others loathe it, arguing that it loses all there was to like about the artist in the first place. Meanwhile, the artist has avoided being pigeon holed and has made the smart move of becoming a genius in the eyes of those in the first camp, and reaching a place where things can only get better in the eyes those in the second. Kevin Parker, AKA Tame Impala, finds himself within this narrative on releasing Currents, after becoming the king of psychedelic rock with 2012’s Lonerism. However, he’s as aware of this as we are, to the extent that it seems he may have undergone a considerable stylistic shift simply because he wanted to make an album that lyrically and sonically represents the human experience of change.
It’s not all change: elements of Tame Impala’s music have remained constant throughout their three albums. The drums still have tonnes of feel, the bass hooks are still melodic and memorable and Parker’s Lennon like, reverb soaked vocal still cuts through his layered production as if it were a stick of dense, kaleidoscopic rock. Rock however is conspicuously absent from Currents; guitars appear subtly and on only a handful of tracks. Large sections of songs like 'Elephant' and 'Keep On Lying' gave way to jams, whereas these songs are tightly structured. Although it never was, Tame Impala used to sound like a bunch of drugged up, laid back Australians being spontaneous and virtuosic, whereas now there’s no mistaking that it’s the work of one self-conscious perfectionist, painstakingly crafting every synth wobble and hit hat clasp.
Parker’s lyrics also do less hiding on this album and are all the better for it. Most are framed around a breakup and it’s easy to try and construct an overall narrative when Currents flows as well as it does. The gorgeous ballad 'Eventually' is, refreshingly, about the emotional anguish of the one ending the relationship rather than the one broken up with. The following interlude could be seen as emulating the period of paranoia when a relationship ends and is followed by the groovy, disco inspired 'The Less I Know The Better'; the title of which accurately describes it’s lyrical content. 'Past Life' is a monologue track, humorously describing an encounter with an ex-lover in a pitched down vocal. The abrupt end to 'Disciples' suggests that this re-lapse was short lived. From these descriptions, it becomes clear quite how much more depth there is here than in previous Tame Impala albums. Many of these songs could be interpreted as being sung to Parker’s guitar, particularly the dusky album closer, which opens with the line ‘I can just hear them now, ‘how could he let us down?’, but they don’t know what I’ve found or see it from this way round’.
These descriptions also detail quite how bold a change in tone this album is: on paper, it seems laughable and to top it all off, finger snaps feature on the majority of the tracks. Whilst many will hate it because of this, anybody with an open mind will be able to see that Parker’s tongue is firmly in his cheek. The clearest example of this is 'Cause I’m A Man'; a song that has been accurately described as ‘a wham b side’. Through a combination of sonic bliss, irony and quite how wrong it is, the song works beautifully. The brilliant production featured here also keeps the rest of the album’s various style ventures cohesive. In the past, Parker has been praised for applying dance music sensibilities to rock and pop songs and a showcase of why production wise Currents is his best album comes on the explosive 7 minute opener 'Let It Happen', when the song remixes itself halfway through.
Through all this, Currents makes for just as much of a psychedelic experience as Lonerism did, because the sounds and overall feeling that it exudes emulate change: an exciting, confusing and terrifying process. This change doesn’t come across as a tired narrative or planned career move, but as the sort of inexorable process each us of us come to at pinnacle points in our lives.
Words: Rob Paterson