THE JOURNEY OF TAME IMPALA
Over the course of four eye opening records, Kevin Parker has managed to not only bring us some of the best alternative music of the last decade, but he’s also been able to find a niche in his creativity that doesn’t hobble him based on subject matter. While no official word has ever been given on how much Parker pulls from his personal life and past relationships in order to reach his fullest potential, many of his songs appear deeply experiential. Today we’ll be talking about Impala’s music, and how in just a matter of records he’s gone from underground sensation to full fledged rock star capable of selling out huge festivals and arenas.
From the first track of Tame Impala’s debut album “Innerspeaker,” (which very well could be a metaphor for pouring out the turmoil and regrets that fill all of us from time to time) Parker is able to paint a vivid picture of a lovelorn man meandering contently “sitting around smoking weed.” The she in question on this song, titled “It is Not Meant to Be,” doesn’t appreciate Parker’s approach to life, and the song is a construct of the many things that could go wrong once you realize that the shoes of a particular relationship no longer are able to fit the feet of the participants.
Mutterings of this nature abound on many of these songs, but it’s this first track that let’s us know that Tame Impala, and really Parker solely, are able to go there and bring this type of music to a place where few ever dared to stray. Part of why this works so well for Parker is that it comes off as genuine. Songs work best for mass audiences when you’re able to connect to experiences that the listener has also been through, and throughout many of his songs, Parker is able to do that with ease.
As you go further into his works though, influences and romantic nuances are trickled through many of the songs. This helped to make those first two albums so powerful in terms of emotions stemming from previous experiences. On Parker’s sophomore release, “Lonerism,” the themes of lost loves and regrettable moments sneak a little bit more into the forefront. On a track like “Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind” from the first record “Innerspeaker,” the message is more narrow in terms of a typical person incapable of being decisive in regards to what they want, but Parker expands on that greatly on “Lonerism.”
Tame as an entity continually straddles the line between normally routine things in psych rock (i.e. visions of the future or of the end of the world), but what they add in grandiose imagery is only as good as the lyrics being presented, and this is where Parker kills it. Even a song like “Apocalypse Dreams,” seems like a letter from a person struggling to understand what is happening in his sphere of existence. The song is more about the monotonous nature of life and how nothing ever truly changes. Whether or not this is in regards to a former partner or not, it’s plays to the idea of the ability to romanticize anything, from a breakup that was always supposed to happen, or to the eventual death of our world.
For every song whose meaning is indeterminate and abstract though, there’s a song like number four on “Lonerism,” “Mind Mischief.” The song and video alike are both built to perfect effect and fully burrow into the concept of unrequited love. When Parker belts out “She remembers my name,” you know the thrill of someone you feel connected to actually knowing who you are. This might seem strange for some, but as a person who’s had feelings for someone I barely knew, or who I was convinced had no idea I even existed, this concept is enthralling and exciting at the same time.
Above all else though, the song that most clearly speaks to heartbreak on the second album is without question “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.” Many people have felt this way (I know I certainly have), but the pain involved in any long term relationship can have a crippling effect on the participants. This song works so well because it’s relatable, human, and the listener can quickly find themselves in the headspace of the musician sending out his signals of heartbreak, uncertainty and misdirection.
I know the pain, specifically because I’ve lived through it. I’ve been at those points where I can recall a time where I heard a former partner's voice calling out to me, and I’ve felt stagnant in a position where there was no easy way out. The song’s brilliance and triumph are ones made from the blood, sweat and tears of it’s composer. On the third record, all nodes or nuanced statements are essentially blown away for something much more literal, and in your face with the pain and openness exhibited.
The first obvious sign of this direction on the album comes to us during the song “Yes I’m Changing.” The record all in all is a mix between a typical psych-rock record with sweeping beats that pulsate, but there’s a very clear indication that this is a R&B classic breakup record simply done in the way that Parker had refined on the first two albums. Now while Parker has gone on record and said this is not a breakup album, it’s hard to see his logic when discussing it’s most personally profound tracks. That’s why “I’m Changing” is such a stark contrast to what had come before. I know the pain behind the song because, while I was still getting to know this record, a detachment from my ex-wife was taking place and enveloping every fiber of my being. This song became my pick me up and make me understand song, even though all the keys I needed to make sense of this terrible event were already in my head, waiting to be worked out.
On that track, you don’t get the impression of a good guy or a bad guy. Breakups are incredibly hard, and the more time you spend trying to make it work, the worse you feel when it ultimately ends. No one comes out the victor, just two more people with a little less trust and hope in their hearts. Over and over again on “Currents” you are thrust into that breakup mentality. Songs like “Eventually” drill the notion home that mistakes happen and that everyone will “Eventually” make their way through the downsides of failed love. When Parker croons “But I know that I'll be happier and I know you will too,” you feel the relief of knowing that even though it sucks at this moment, it does eventually become better. I, for one, can fully understand the concept of moving on is easier if I never knew a person, but with all that hard work, you’re able to grow and set out on a new path with your remade self to attempt to make something work in this toxic, never good enough world. Halfway through “Currents” we meet a song filled with classical romantic moments of regret, and of witnessing the person you want giving their attention to someone that isn’t you.
That song “The Less I know the Better,” isn’t only the best track on the album, it seems to be the most rational and realistic. We’ve all felt how Parker feels when he explains how he “was doing fine without ya, ‘til I saw your face, now I can’t erase.” This section is a huge bomb of truth dropped, simply because we all know what the feelings and emotions running through you are like when these moments come up, usually as a relationship deteriorates and all sense of what is supposed to work and not work suddenly become a thing you can’t separate.
Songs like the one’s mentioned, as well as tracks further down the tracklist of the album (“Cause I’m a Man,” or album closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”) further build the notion that while “Currents” may not be an autobiography of a breakup in Parker’s life, at the very least it has an overarching theme of heartbreak, suffering and the resolve of a person trying to learn from their fuck ups and unfortunate circumstances, and how that pain can truly be a catalyst for change.
At the start of the year, 2020 literally the night before my step-mom Babs passed away, my wife and I got the most recent Tame Impala record, “The Slow Rush.”. I didn't know it at the time, but yet again a Tame Impala record would be very much like my year. A slow rush of emotions, huge changes, massive decisions and plenty more unsettling news to grapple with had never reeling emotionally and mentally.
The album, while not the classic that many perhaps expected, is still powerful, albeit heavily produced and nuanced in its soundscapes. In other words, a normal between album progression from Kevin Parker. The songwriting is mesmerizing and beautiful, nothing new there, but the growing maturity of Parker has started to be reflected in his more precise but ultimately more groove oriented psyche-pop. It’s not perfect, but it doesn't deserve the lackluster response it's gotten from many.
Much of the vibe surrounding the “the Slow Rush” revolves around tightly arranged dance notes, with more upbeat elements than on previous efforts. We already talked about this in some length earlier in this piece, but “Lost in Yesterday,” likely the best track of the album for my money, deals with lyrical content that's rooted in real life stresses and turmoil about the future that faces all of us.
It’s easy to get lost (no pun intended) during the four minute run time, most likely because of the infectious beat, but seeing the song live, with a full band and a light show that would make Pink Floyd jealous, really is something that takes your breathe away.
Plenty of folks apparently didn’t latch on to this record like Parker’s previous three, but there are plenty of great songs to go around. “Borderline,”, with its synth dance vibes and difficult to pin down lyrics., is a song about the dangers of contentment, and what may come out of that feeling. You can tell during the song that feeling of uncertainty even though he’s grateful to have found a worthy life partner.
Again all of this is done on the shoulders of Kevin Parker, who’s mastery in songwriting is now very well documented. “Slow Rush” and its parts might not be masterpiece worth, but tracks like “Borderline” show no less skill or attention than what we’ve become accustomed to when it comes to Tame Impala. With four albums Parker has changed not only the shape of alternative rock, but has also left the lines blurred in a world that’s able to combine indie, psyche rock, R&B and whatever else Parker decides to integrate into his works.
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Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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