Much of the critical reception of Tame Impala’s third album Currents has focused on setting it apart as something totally fresh for Kevin Parker. Listening to the album, it becomes clear that the transition is present but exaggerated. While the album has an undeniably new electronic gleam, in many ways it simply carries on Parker’s obvious fascination with melody and rhythm, psychedelia and isolation from earlier albums. Thematically, the album’s opener, ‘Let it Happen’ has a lot in common with Innerspeaker’s ‘Desire Be Desire Go’ and Lonerism’s ‘Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control’. The lengthy, meandering track, one of the strongest on a strong album, illustrates that ‘go with the flow’ mentality that Parker’s music has become known for; its melody shifts and trips over itself as though literally caught in a groove. Perhaps, then, Tame Impala’s electric makeover is not such a sharp departure after all.
As time has gone on, Parker has become less and less bothered about passing off Tame Impala as anything other than a solo project, and Currents is his most personal and direct album to date. The album’s aural shifts reflect his lyrical obsession with moments of change, anticipation, regret and a sense of self that fluctuates in strength. The subject matter isn’t always subtle- one track is titled ‘Yes I’m Changing’- but it doesn’t need to be. Parker’s personal and revealing lyrics are part of what allows Tame Impala to retain a sense of intimacy even within stadium-ready power ballads. It’s what makes Tame Impala’s music so equally suited to gloom and celebration.
Throughout the album, Parker relies on that pleasantly jarring combination of lyrics that reflect melancholy isolation, and melodies that have a bright, summery simplicity. His falsetto is as emotive and slightly saccharine as ever. Currents feels new partly because it takes elements that have always worked for Tame Impala and dials them up to saturation point. It’s this maximalism that makes the album absorbing, satisfying, but also a little over-ripe in places (the self-parodying silliness of ‘Past Life’ just feels out of place). It also means that anyone coming to the album in the hope of anything startlingly experimental will almost certainly be disappointed. Currents, despite what several critics have implied, is not the Kid A to Lonerism’s OK Computer. Parker has simply traded his psych-rock vibe for a different kind of nostalgia, his own version of smooth 70’s radio hits. It’s a sound that suits him. The most enjoyable elements of the album are in its addictive simplicity; the immediately memorable bass line that launches ‘Eventually’ and the tuneful riffs of ‘’Cause I’m a Man’.
From Talking Heads to Arcade Fire, Tame Impala is hardly the first rock band to turn to, in Parker’s own words, ‘dorky, white disco funk’, and in 2015 genre labels like ‘rock band’ feel increasingly unstable anyway. Parker’s guitar was always so heavily doused in reverb and skilfully refracted through studio manipulation, that the shift to synth hardly comes as a shock, particularly when it is delivered with the pure melodic ease that Tame Impala fans have come to expect. Currents may not be a shocking or an extraordinary album, but it’s a highly enjoyable one, and that’s more than enough.