Parker is back, his trusty hands at the helm of an intricate and polished space disco in the record that everybody and their dog saw coming, a pronounced and obvious quest for a pop sound preceded by previous Impala outings. Any hope of return to a rock sound is dashed, but I reiterate, anyone following Kevin’s appearances from 2015 until the present day should really have seen this coming. It’s a fresh take on a sound we’re largely familiar with, but it’s good to be clear about what exactly the opportunity cost of dipping his proverbial Australian feet into this even-glossier-than-before nu-disco pop sound entails.
There aren’t as many of those transitional moments which, in Tame Impala albums past, struck the listener as an immediately unique sonic flourish, or if there are — they’re in another guise, hidden under a set of tracks that don’t distinguish themselves from each other as readily as the case has been for the records Kevin made before. When I read the discussion surrounding this album, one of the recurring objections in reference to the procedural switch Kevin undertakes here relates to a lack of memorability and to an extent, I concur.
To provide a clearer picture, I refer you to the release of Let It Happen as the initial teaser single for Currents, it was just completely undeniable that whatever was coming was going to dominate the average pot-smoking university/college student’s playlist for the next 5 years at least and that those who wished to tear off a juicy piece of that market — the one which straddles the line between accessible pop and the indie disco crowd would be eating out of Kevin’s hands for a long time to come.
With this record however, people have been slower to react. This album certainly has nothing akin to the crystalline pop or unmistakable infectiousness as The Less I Know the Better, actually, in terms of hooks, it’s not quite as immediate as its predecessor, yes, the songs mostly assume a fairly linear pop approach, but Kevin seems to want you to pay attention to his flashy production rather than his trademark Lennon wailing.
It should come as little surprise that a Tame Impala album which hasn’t shifted its boundaries too far along from the material found on the last album involves a landscape which is smooth and listenable, and whatever appears in the viewfinder of Kevin’s kaleidoscope isn’t really breaking down the fourth wall.
The lyrics are occasionally pretty glib it has to be said. It certainly doesn’t feel like the personal journey Currents was, in fact here most of the existential doubt and personal moments of worry seem to have been forcibly plucked from the picture. He’s also back doing that thing where he starts messing with a new idea and quite unnaturally introducing it towards the end of a track and not fleshing it out properly, which anyone with a particularly strong memory of Currents will remember this motif.
There are occasional moments of production wizardry here with some of the tracks, minus the flying acid guitar leads and plus this bouncy piano lead borrowed from Happy Mondays (or elsewhere), dreaming up airy cumuli of synth work reminiscent of something closer to Lonerism, especially when Kevin loosens up those drum patterns and allows that washed out cymbal splash sound to drive the track, a particularly good example found in the other single It Might Be Time.
Unquestionably this is a result of spending time and effort on more purely pop productions than at any other time in his career. If Currents was merely Kev’s sheepishly teasing at mainstream crossover appeal while staying true to the lurid psychedelic sounds his earlier stoner rock Beatles and early 2010s wave-centric dabbling empire was built upon, here we find ourselves on a train that has long been hurtling toward our station. Five years is a long time to wait, musically speaking these days. We’ve had artists rise up from nowhere and become daily musical rendezvous for us since then. Five years changes a person, and undoubtedly the music they make.
So from where I’m standing, Kevin seems to be content, he seems happier and more at peace with himself than he ever has been. He’s still taking his time, things sound perhaps a little more agreeable than I would like, but melodies, detail and songcraft are still present. This seems like Kevin’s time in the sunshine, an opportune point to enjoy the limelight for a while before the temporary nature of our collective attention span moves onto other pastures. But quite honestly, I’m not going to be the one to admit that this is an improvement on what we already had.