Currents takes Tame Impala down the road of grooves, pop music and the Bee Gees
Around the time Tame Impala’s 2012 sophomore album Lonerism was released, Parker stated that he had “seven songs ready” should Kylie Minogue wish to work with him. Not long after, the band covered Outkast’s ‘Prototype’ in a live radio session. In January, Parker featured on Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special. This June, he told the NME that he wanted to move away from the psych-rock sound Tame Impala had become linked to, and shortly thereafter admitted the Bee Gees were a big inspiration on their latest work.
If Currents does nothing else, it proves that Parker keeps to what he says. Whereas Lonerism was a masterpiece of guitar hooks and John Lennon vocals, Currents moves out of the Swinging Sixties and into a slightly more modern pop groove. In fact, Tame Impala almost completely abandon guitars on this album, with only three or four tracks letting Parker shred his way through the song. One of these is opener ‘Let It Happen’, a near eight minute long epic that shifts between new wave electronics over a very snare infused beat to a fuzzed out guitar solo. It’s a fantastic way to open the album, but perhaps tricks the listener into what to expect.
Enter ‘Nangs’, the short interlude that drips with pulsating electronic rhythms and leads the album into ‘The Moment’, a track containing more Tame Impala-isms than you’d expect. There’s a catchy bass hook, faced paced drums and prominent keys. Parker’s vocals reverberate throughout, but there’s something new and exciting about it despite all the familiarities that works well. Following this comes ‘Yes I’m Changing’ quite easily the most poppy track Tame Impala have ever written. It’s even a far cry from ‘Let It Happen’ and would quite happily slip into the Top 40 somewhere in the mid-Eighties, or perhaps would soundtrack the outro to a cheesy Action/Romance film. It’s alienating on first listen, especially for Tame Impala fans firmly rooted in the ‘rockier’ side of their catalogue, but once you get past the initial shock it’s a pleasant listen.
‘Eventually’ has been one new song that seems over hyped; in comparison to a lot of the rest of this album, it’s simply not as good as it could be. It’s still an enjoyable song, just merely lacklustre considering the peppy, upbeat nature of the rest of the record. One song that doesn’t disappoint however is ‘The Less I Know The Better’. Leading in with that trademark guitar sound and a catchy bass hook, the song is about as close as the band comes to affiliating with the funk revival that Parker has been associated with in the past. It’s easily one of the best tracks on Currents and a one that will worm its way into your brain.
One of the strangest tracks on the album, ‘Past Life’, begins with a spoken word story over the top of synths, before delving into a distorted bass overload and an RnB beat with familiar Tame Impala sound effects. To an extent it works very well, and the diversity clears shows the limits Kevin Parker is willing to push his music. After the enjoyable interlude of ‘Disciples’, ‘Cause I’m A Man’ storms in as one of the more radio-friendly hits from the album. It’s an excellent slow swing number with a crooning chorus and an interesting lyrical message. It’s fascinating to see how these tracks show such diversity within such a small space of time.
The final trilogy of tracks, ‘Reality in Motion’, ‘Love/Paranoia’ and ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ fall into comfortable psych pop territory. After finding their feet in the previous ¾ of the album, these tracks come easy. They don’t particularly break new ground, but more round off Currents with clear and concise pop-based beats. ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ is perhaps the best of the three, with some excellent layered vocal work from Parker and a foreboding atmosphere built up from the use of guitar, bass synth and random musical excerpts that are added in here and there.
It would have taken Tame Impala a lot to outdo Lonerism, and whether or not Currents does that is tricky to discuss. The two albums take on very different styles, yet there are certain aspects that are similar. Kevin Parker seems closer to making the music he wants than ever before, and this leads the group down some paths people wouldn’t necessarily expect them to take. There are points where Currents has the listener in the palm of its hand, but there are also points where it relaxes just a little too much, letting them slip away. But what Tame Impala are doing is still far more interesting than a lot of acts out there and Currents is still a valuable part of their discography, if not necessarily the best.
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