Lonerism is a hard act to follow up. Without sounding too huge, it’s pretty similar to the same situation as Radiohead after OK Computer. Whilst OK Computer had more mainstream success, Lonerism had a huge impact on underground music and for Tame Impala, pretty much reviving Psychedelia from its fusty grave and giving it a lick of new paint. And to some extent, Currents is the Kid A of Tame Impala. It slightly rejigs the characteristics of Tame Impala’s setup; mostly it dims down the blown-out bass of previous Tame Impala, puts a pop sheen across the production, harks back less to an acid-tripping 60s scene and more on 80s pop. Whilst that may scare off the hardcore fans, its a necessary stepping stone away from the copycats flooding the scene and establishes Tame Impala as Kevin Parker’s original project. Currents is Tame Impala’s best album yet.
‘Let It Happen’, the first single released, and first song here, sounds much better surrounded by similar songs. On first listen, it was jarring and alien. Here it feels much more like it has found its home as one of the huge slabs of songs bookending each end of Currents. With its funky bassline, elongated outro featuring more traditional Tame Impala guitars and the electronic tinges, it becomes a lengthy beast. Speaking of electronic tinges: ‘Yes, I’m Changing’. Dodgy titles aside, the song features glossy synths and an emotional glockenspiel. Parker’s vocals are spot on here, with him singing ‘There’s no future for you an me’ and ‘They say people never change but that’s bullshit / they do’. The lyrics could easily be clumsy and sickly in the hands of another pop singer, but with Parker, the lyrics never feel cringeworthy, instead they slot right in with what should be out-of-date electronics and styles. Parker seemingly turns to gold any genre he touches.
‘Eventually’ was one of the tracks I was excited for in the run-up to Currents. With some aggressive guitars and bass, squelchy synths and a build-up, ‘Eventually’ is one of the centrepieces of Currents. Parker sings ‘I know that I’ll be happier / And I know you will too’ and ‘Wish I could turn you back into a stranger’, narrating an ugly end to a relationship. However, the best songs you will find here are ‘The Less I Know The Better’, with its god-damn amazing bass, ‘Love/Paranoid’, which blends electronic with soulful R’n’B and ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’ which is sludgy in a Tame Impala way, has a waterfall of synths and has Parker in sultry mode, singing ‘Feel like a brand new person / but making the same old mistakes / but I don’t care I’m in love’, with call-and-respond lyrics acting as someone who can’t make up their mind. Throughout the album, Parker remains with the same doubtful persona that his albums have always occupied, but here it is delivered differently; both musically and vocally. It’s much less blurred; Parker is more direct and approaches his problems from different perspectives. Much like the cover, he is cutting straight through the rest to get to what he wants.
There are some downsides, slightly. ‘Past Life’ is an overindulgent disco mess with spoken word in the background and isn’t really sure whether it wants to be an old Tame Impala track with the instrumental sections or the verses that for some reason remind me of the animated BFG soundtrack (seriously). Similarly, the next track ‘Disciples’ doesn’t have much substance to it other than squelchy synths and half-decent lyrics: ‘I can tell by your face / that no-one’s ever been rude to you’.
Currents could have easily been a retread of Lonerism and all of the success it brought. There is no ‘Elephant’ here to stick on a Blackberry advert. There is no crowdpleasing psychedelic tripper like ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’. There is only Parker indulging in the styles that he sees fit to employ. There was a real chance that Currents would come out as a commercially-styled but commercially-unsuccessful relic. Fortunately enough, that’s not the case here. Parker was just forward-thinking enough to push the boundaries of what Tame Impala ‘is’, without detracting from what made Tame Impala such an original act. Sure, there are a few spotty tracks and the interludes ‘Gossip’, ‘Disciples’ and ‘Nangs’ are entirely unnecessary. The album could have easily lost ten minutes and still been the stepping stone that it is. Currents is what Tame Impala needed to remain relevant.