Currents does something quite fantastical in that it takes the uncool and makes it cool again. Those cheesy electric piano sounds you heard in Richard Marx songs in the mid-80s? Well they're not cheesy anymore. Kevin Parker takes the uncool and makes it vital.
Okay, so I’ve listened to Tame Impala’s excellent new album Currents several times now. Like everyday, twice a day, since last Friday. I can say very confidently that it’s a masterpiece. Kevin Parker has finally decided he no longer has to make albums that sound like they’re being performed by a crusty crew of long-haired, bearded psych dudes jammin’ on a weed and lager high. He’s succumbed to the idea -or realization- that he himself is just as much a producer as he is a singer in a rock band. Since the beginning he’s recorded Tame Impala records by himself, with the same old equipment, with the same idea in mind which is writing great, catchy pop songs. But he did so in a way where those songs could still be looked at as a band and not just Kevin Parker. Currents marks the point in Mr. Parker’s musical career where he gave in to the idea that he’s an amazing studio svengali that can manipulate sound and instrument into something that’s both retro and futuristic. He needn’t worry about creating the illusion of a “band” jammin’. Working with Mark Ronson must’ve given him the push he needed to fully commit to his studio and songwriting prowess. Sure, a broken heart always helps things along, too. This is his skewered pop epic. Currents is a classic pop record. A classic rock record. It’s just a classic.
The songs? “Let It Happen” is a nearly 8 minute kinetic, anxiety-soaked, dance track that pulsates urgency and the vibe of “when it happens, let it happen.” There seems to be a million things happening in this song, yet it never feels overindulgent. It seems to encapsulate everything about Tame Impala that I’ve grown to love about them(or him.) “The Moment” could be a b-side from Thriller. I could so completely hear Michael Jackson singing this great track. All the studio trickery with delays, echoes, and ethereal synths are here, but Parker’s voice is much more in the center and pulled up for us to hear. It’s a much more clear-eyed approach to a Tame Impala tune that we haven’t heard before. “Yes I’m Changing” is pretty much an all out ballad. A song about coming to grips with the idea we don’t always stay the same. People grow apart and that’s that. Parker has tinkered with sentiment before, but here he’s embracing it completely. “Eventually” has an “It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” vibe to it, if you threw in some 80s Genesis on top and coated it with some powdered sugar. One of my absolute favorite tracks is the sublime “The Less I Know The Better”. For me, this song epitomizes a childhood of sitting in the backseat of my mom and dad’s 1984 Honda Accord and those rides being soundtracked by early 80s FM radio. The electric piano, the wurlitzer, the disco-lite beat, and the falsetto are throwbacks to a time in pop music that is looked back upon as cheesy and processed; yet Parker seems to make it relevant and poignant. This song is about as perfect a pop track as they come. “Disciples” comes in and out of the speakers in less than 2 minutes but it’s classic a classic psych rock guitar track. “Cause I’m A Man” is a skewed slow jam. THC-fueled R&B. “Reality In Motion” sounds like something Parker may have penned for Melody Prochet but decided to keep it for himself. “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” feels like a mantra put to stark pop bliss. It’s slow, loping drum beat and intricately placed musical easter eggs make for some great headphone listening.
Currents does something quite fantastical in that it takes the uncool and makes it cool again. Those cheesy electric piano sounds you heard in Richard Marx songs in the mid-80s? Well they’re not cheesy anymore. Kevin Parker takes the uncool and makes it vital. Currents is a pop record from another dimension. A dimension where Kevin Parker co-wrote “Billie Jean” with Michael Jackson and smoked up with Alan Parsons. It’s one of the best records of the year.