Tame Impala – Currents
After two very fine albums of high-quality fanfiction about what it would sound like if John Lennon fronted Cream, Currents is an impressive new direction for Tame Impala, says JODY MACGREGOR.
It’s the laziest cliché to think “he must have been so high when he had this idea” as if nobody ever thought up anything unusual when they were unstoned, but apparently Kevin Parker really was high when he listened to a Bee Gees song and decided to make the next Tame Impala album sound like something very different. We got a taste of it where his head was at with the cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Closure In Moscow’ last year, and Currents builds on that.
“Like a lot of great albums, it’s better the third time you hear it”
Though it’s still as psychedelic as ever, there’s less guitar and instead Currents is an album of pristine fingerclicks, washes of synth, and disco beats. All those prog touches we’re used to – the phasing effects and echoing vocals and sci-fi keyboards – are still here as well, just applied as gloss to an entirely different genre.
Opener ‘Let It Happen’ is the antithesis of Lonerism in sound and also subject matter, a song about relaxing and embracing the world outside instead of retreating from it. It also doubles as good advice for the wary listener who is cautious of this new Tame Impala sound: “just chill and trust in Kevin Parker, even though there’s a talkbox bit and it sounds like Giorgio Moroder.” That trust will be rewarded. Like all of Tame Impala’s albums Currents has grown on me, and a lot of my initial doubts were eventually washed away. Like a lot of great albums, it’s better the third time you hear it.
You can read a lot of the lyrics on Currents as being about Parker’s shift into different sounds, like the soft-rock ballad ‘Yes I’m Changing’ (“They say people never change but that’s bullshit/They do”). They also read as being about the end of a relationship. Every line that sounds like it’s about Parker moving on to new musical landscapes where he can throw some harpsichord and sampled traffic noises over a song people will slow-dance to could also be about moving on romantically. It’s a break-up album that, for once, is about the dumper rather than the dumpee, with a gentle “It’s not you, it’s me, no honestly” tone to it.
A perfect example of that is ‘Eventually’, which finds Parker singing “It feels like murder to put your heart through this” and then dropping one of the album’s rare barrages of fuzz. Of course, then there’s a fingerclick and it’s disco again. Just as disco but in more of a 1980s funk way is ‘The Less I Know The Better’, which takes a brief look at things from the other side with hilarious lyrics like “She was holding hands with Trevor/Not the greatest feeling ever.” It’s the one moment where Currents really approaches cheese, but with a light enough touch to get away with it.
I’m not so sure ‘Past Life’ justifies its conceit – a voice digitally altered like a witness on a current affairs show narrating about seeing “a lover from a past life”, with Parker crooning in between. By the point where I’d listened to Currents enough for it to get its hooks into me I’d grown sick of hearing the story told in ‘Past Life’ play out. It’s the one skippable track on an album that otherwise hangs together well, with brief interstitial experiments like ‘Nangs’ and ‘Gossip’ as palate cleansers between the heavier courses. I find myself not wanting to like R&B jam ‘Cause I’m A Man’ either because of its half-bright Men Are From Mars lyrics but I keep singing along to them anyway.
The climax, ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, is like a duet Parker sings with himself, taking pride in his ability to move on while also doubting anything will really change. It’ll be divisive for sure, and fans of Air or Moroder might find it less groundbreaking than trad-rock listeners, but it’s fucking rad on its own merits anyway.