Tamed Impala: Parker Embraces Electro-Pop on Currents

Kevin Parker just wants to dance, bro. Following his much-discussed break-up with Melody Prochet, leader of dream pop band Melody’s Echo Chamber, Tame Impala’s Parker seems to have a new fondness for sentimental dance pop. It’s draped all over his new album, Currents.

The first singles released this spring were a bad sign. Surely, I thought, the easily-digestable — dare I say ‘predictable’ — melodies that pervaded the new Tame Impala tracks were an extended genre-exercise, rather than a full-on new direction.

currents_tame_impalaBut after an 70’s pop aperitif, 80s synth appetizer and a couple glasses of 90s hip-hop beats, I’m still waiting for the main course of psych rock. The chef never showed up with it. Throw me a bone here, Kevin.

Currents is unfortunately bland and single-minded, often hewing closer to Phoenix than Pink Floyd. Surprisingly, there’s nary a moment of garage-rock shredding in the spacier, cleaner production, with bass and drums finely-tuned for the resulting dance party.

Parker has hinted in the past toward an affinity for dance music with his excellent, guitar-fueled cover of Blue Boy’s “Remember Me”, which ended up a B-side to the pre-Innerspeaker single “Sundown Syndrome.” However, rather than converting the best aspects of electronic genres to a guitar-based sound like he did there, Currents opts to jump ship for synths and mostly flavorless, pop nonpareils.

Despite Tame Impala’s apparent eagerness to trade the sounds of the Beatles for those of the Bee Gees, the end result occasionally ends up undeniably catchy. But, catchy does not equate to greatness; if it did, we’d be inducting whoever the fuck wrote the “Macarena” into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Tame Impala - Currents

7.9 / 10

With a number of reviewers gushing endlessly about Parker’s new pop sound, for a bit I was wondering if I had missed something. Thankfully, though, I wasn’t the only one not feeling it; CraveOnline’s Johnny Firecloud called out Currents as “breezy hangover douche in a summertime scarf,” and refused to even review it.

Lyrically, this is far and away Parker’s least formidable record. Meaningless, throwaway pop lyrics abound, seemingly lulling listeners into a stupor as most of the shiny songs drag forward. Unfortunately, the vague, passionless lyrics often align with the unremarkable humdrum of the lazy, cotton-candy melodies. I found myself most enjoying Currents when I was no longer actively listening, instead letting it fade toward the back of my mind. The creativity, vibe and little endearing details that made careful, extended analysis of Innerspeaker and Lonerism rewarding just weren’t there — no matter how hard I seemed to look.

Let’s go through the tracks and attempt to make some sense of this.

Let it Happen” may drag on a bit further than necessary, but it has a genuinely-catchy quality lurking deep in it’s synths. It’s a good song that could certainly have coexisted nicely on an album built on less generic songwriting. What it loses from the psychedelic guitar pyrotechnics and retro-analog studio wizardry of the Old Tame Impala (2007-2014, r.i.p.), it gains back in the flat, catchy simplicity of its melody, which has a special knack for getting stuck in the back of your head. At points the beat holds for an instant, only to drop once again; it wouldn’t be out of place on an Ibiza dance floor.

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The synth glitch gimmick later in the song is emblematic of the new bag of DJ production tricks Parker is pulling from on Currents. The influence of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is clear when hearing the vast trove of genre influences, including the vocoder auto-tune effect added to the ending of “Let it Happen,” or the spoken-word passages of “Past Life.” But this is (in theory) a psych rock band. While I like the clean, floating machinations of Random Access Memories, I didn’t sign up for a wannabe Daft Punk experience dressed up in plaid.

“Nangs,” the second track, offers a brief moment to clear one’s head. Dripping synths melt into fat chords, a great little song that fades away too quickly. As I listened through for the first time, at this point I excitedly thought we might be getting Parker’s electronic experimentation record — his own Kid A, something that could transcend genre without compromise. Sadly, this hope was crushed immediately.

The third and fourth tracks, “The Moment” and “Yes, I’m Changing,” are quite cheesy – even by pure, undiluted pop standards. The former almost makes up for it with a killer driving bass line and some well-placed delayed vocals. On the latter, Phil Collins-esque synths float uselessly around a stagnant beat, coming off a bit like Parker’s interpretation of Alphaville’s “Forever Young.”

The best thing that can be said about “Yes, I’m Changing” is that track’s lack of muscle offers an opportunity for the next song. “Eventually,” does the trick, with opening guitar and synth lines that explode outward to kick off one of the album’s best songs. Even by the end of the song though, Parker can’t resist holding his DJ headphones to one ear again, dropping the beat and fiddling with cutting the EQ knob.

“Eventually” kicks-off the strongest run of songs on Currents, with the nicely-reserved “Gossip” offering another reprieve from the dance floor. The faux-R’n’B electro-soul of “The Less I Know the Better” works better than it should, but boring verses and lame lyrics start to drag it down. “She said it’s not now or never / Waiting years we’ll be together / I said better late than never / Just don’t make me wait forever / Don’t make me wait forever” Deep … It’s Kevin’s birthday, and he can cry if he wants to, okay? Moving on.

“Disciples” offers a driving beat that gives the album some much-needed attitude; it’s certainly a stand-out track, and of all of the new material, it best translated to the live stage during Tame Impala’s set at Boston Calling earlier this summer. Unfortunately, it happens to lead right into the album’s worst, most inexplicable moment: “‘Cause I’m A Man.” For some reason this grating was chosen as an initial single, but I feel it will forever be relegated as a ‘skip forward’ track for many. Where’s Jezebel on this one, by the way?

“New Person, Same Old Mistakes” is what I’ve always wanted: Aussie pop take on late 90s hip-hop beats. Just kidding. While not the worst (especially compared to the two outright boring tracks proceeding it), it was strange feeling like Left-Eye Lopez was going to drop in any second for a verse. The fat bass line certainly carries the track, but the pointless synth diddling in the background came off as a failed attempt at a Dr. Dre beat.

As a bland mashup experiment of various pop genres, “Currents” didn’t turn out as bad as it could have, considering its ambition. However, it’s a far cry from the artistic masterpiece many are hailing it as; instead of a new direction, we were doled out a particularly chewy and saccharine sweet piece of pop taffy that may linger on your palate, but also leaves one feeling unfulfilled and a bit sick.

7.9
7.9

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