It has become increasingly rare for indie rock bands to break through into mainstream success, and a psychedelic record about the comforts of isolation is probably the unlikeliest candidate to accomplish the feat. Nevertheless, Lonerism became a hit and catapulted Tame Impala into the rarefied air of festival-headliners, and the pressure was on for Kevin Parker to see what he could accomplish next with his project. For Currents, Parker has seemingly ditched synth-like-guitars for actual synths, giving his explorations into 70’s-era psychedelia a slick 80’s sheen, an initially jarring juxtaposition that reveals itself over multiple listens to be a smart approach to evolving the band’s signature sound. The album does not provide the same gratifying pleasure of Lonerism, but Currents still provides an intriguing next step forward for Tame Impala.
The album kicks off with the absolutely stellar “Let It Happen”, a track that is a restless, pulsing, seven-and-a-half minute monster that is sure to be the highlight of any future Tame Impala live show. It not only is a perfect example of Parker’s studio wizardry, but it is a compositional masterpiece–“Let It Happen” effortlessly shifts from one idea to the next, but never comes across as meandering, even as it effectively stops, restarts, and reverses itself mid-song. While the song does an excellent job of not only setting the tone for the rest of the album, but preparing the listener for Tame Impala’s shift in style, it unfortunately overshadows everything else that follows.
Currents is a sonic marvel, and fans will deservedly pore over every note on the album. The incorporation of dance elements and Prince-inspired R&B was an inspired choice, and the production on the album makes it the most modern-sounding retro album possible. However, the album suffers from a saggy middle section, where compelling musical ideas are compromised by weak vocal melodies that fail to leave much of an impression. Despite these flaws, the album picks up in its second half when it finds the groove again in songs like “Disciples” and “Reality In Motion”.
It is clear that Currents is a deeply personal record, and Parker’s passion really shines through the entire work. Like other Tame Impala albums, it takes several listens to pick up on the nuances of Currents, but the music is fascinating enough on the surface that it never feels like a chore. At the moment, it may not be the equal of Lonerism or Innerspeaker, but as it stands Currents is a welcome addition to the band’s catalog.