Over the past five years, Kevin Parker’s psychedelic pop outfit has come to be one of the most imposing and acclaimed acts in the indie scene. Tame Impala’s first album, 2010’s Innerspeaker, turned heads and garnered big critical recognition – its followup, 2012’s Lonerism, was considered even better. Three years later, indieheads the world ‘round are rabid with desire for a new Tame Impala album – and here it is.
Full disclosure – I’ve spent very little time with Innerspeaker and Lonerism. The neo-Beatles psychadelia vibe that Parker goes for doesn’t really jive with me, so besides maybe a listen each, I’m totally new to Tame Impala. That in mind, I’ll try to keep my thoughts restricted to only Currents.
The opening notes of Currents, from the 8-minute pop behemoth “Let it Happen”, remind me more of The Weather Girls’ infamous 1982 “It’s Raining Men” than the artful psychedelic indie that Tame Impala is famous for. I don’t mean that as an insult – “Let it Happen” is actually a killer intro – but go listen to both songs and try to tell me I’m wrong. On one hand, the fact that Tame Impala, a critical darling and led by a known auteur and perfectionist in Kevin Parker, starts their latest album by (even unintentionally) invoking one of the most egregious examples of mass-produced bad 80s pop music is pretty funny. That being said, the similarity is played totally straight-faced and flows into the rest of the song very nicely. If this was done on purpose, it’s dead serious and totally sincere. That, above all, is what Currents is: heartfelt and utterly unapologetic pop music.
Getting into some of the nitty-gritty, production across Currents is top-notch; warm and clean for the most part, lo-fi where it needs to be. Kevin Parker’s voice now sound a bit more like him, instead of the ghost of John Lennon; the vocals across Currents are soft and reverb-heavy, a popular trend in Tame Impala-esque indie pop groups. I’ve found that having vocals in that style usually come off as half-assed, lazy, and vacant, but Parker does manage to squeeze in some urgency and emotion when needed. Overall, the best way to describe the vocals is “inoffensive”.
In fact, “inoffensive” is an excellent way to describe Currents as a whole. The album just sounds very nice. It’s not necessarily boring – whenever Currents falls into a groove that could be monotonous, there’s a new vocal hook or guitar riff to spice things up. The most notable example is in the song “Past Life”, a little more than halfway through the album, which shirks the normal Tame Impala sound for a pitched-down spoken word delivery that leads into an explosion of white noise and drone before bouncing out into a static-tinged, blown out love ballad.
Still, these moments that shake up the monotony are not intrusive unless you’re actively paying attention. Currents fades into the background very well – it’s subtle and easy to enjoy, the kind of music that you might hear in an Urban Outfitters changing room.
Tame Impala has often drawn both ire and praise for their reverence of 60s and 70s pop-rock, to the point where a major criticism of Innerspeaker is that it sounds too much like a Beatles cover album to stand on its own. I don’t want to speak to Parker’s evolution over his five years of Impala, but Currents feels like a successful fusion of exactly that retro sound with contemporary pop sensibilities, a combination that works very well.
Going into this review, it was tempting to rip Currents apart for being so accessible and so easy to listen to – for being the kind of album that you can put on and ignore, and it’ll sound just fine no matter what. For whatever reason, I was deluded into thinking that an album that is easy to listen to is somehow easy to make. The more I listen to it, though, the more I realize that Currents is one of the most precise, calculated, and detailed albums of the year so far. There is not a hair out of place, not a wrong note, not a single thing to detract from the listening experience whether you’re paying full attention to the music or hearing it pumped through a mall PA. The only problems with Currents are that such a meticulous album runs the risk of lacking some soul, the little mistakes that make a piece of music that much more human, and that there are no true standout moments. Starting from the “It’s Raining Men” intro through to the abrupt ending of “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”, Currents reaches a level of excellence that doesn’t waver. Currents isn’t perfect – too often it flirts with monotony, too easily it fades into the background. But, even so, it is an excellent piece of music and more than worth your time.
Not quite flawless, but what really is?8
Production score 8
Lyrics score 9
Composition score 9