“I always wanted to be adored [for] my work, but at the same time I feel something extraordinary when people hate it.”
– Kevin Parker, Tame Impala
In the interest of humoring Kevin Parker, I tried.
What is there to hate about Tame Impala?
- Rolling Stone decreed Innerspeaker the best album of 2010.
- There’s a tendency towards escapism in psychedelia, a preference for alternate realities, dreamscapes, fantasies, and self-contained worlds.
- The auditory signifiers of psychedelic music are very reminiscent of a particular place and time — it’s a retro aesthetic.
- If you believe the reviewers who hear a phaser and immediately think Revolver, you’d think Parker was some kind of Lennon impersonator (he’s not, but it’s a good enough referent).
Lonerism isn’t a vast departure from Innerspeaker, but the melodies are poppier, even while the subject matter has gotten more, um, lonely. And yes, there are more synths this time.
The most psychologically revealing song on the album must be “Elephant,” which is basically Parker ragging on some boorish self-confident striver, “shaking his big grey trunk just for the hell of it.” “He pulled the mirrors off his Cadillac/ Because he doesn’t like it looking like he looks back,” he sings. There’s no real substance to his complaint in the song, but his stoner insouciance goes well with the garage rock, White Stripes-y groove, like a soundtrack for unemployed Millennial misanthropes.
That moment of agitation, though, proves to be the exception on an album that is less bitter and more plainly despondent than its predecessor. In fact, it seems to me that the most prominent theme of Lonerism is its unflinching mundanity. “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” is the name of one track, what would seem to be a self-referential, self-deprecating joke. Tame Impala takes the premise that psychedelic music needn’t (shouldn’t) be based on Eastern spirituality, medieval lore, or esoteric nonsense to its logical, unironic conclusion.
It’s been said that Tame Impala don’t just get written off as psychedelic revivalists because they employ synths, and thereby fuse the old with the new and create something unexpected or whatever. But why not say the same thing about the clips of found sound that litter the beginning and ending of the album? In addition to the synths, there are recordings of whispered voices, a digitally-enhanced sense of reverberant space; none of these things are necessarily native to the hallucinogenic jungle. And there’s a workmanlike attitude to the way Parker fills in the quiet spaces that belies the notion that Tame Impala basically just makes M83 albums.
Songwriting-wise, Parkerd has never been stronger. Ranging from slower, simpler, My Morning Jacket-esque jams like “Mind Mischief” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” to the longer, more conceptually impressive numbers like “Apocalypse Dreams (allegedly inspired by Lars von Trier’s Melancholia) or “Nothing That Has Happened So Far.” There really isn’t a bad song on here, and putting up with Parker’s introspections is a small price to pay for the music they’re set to. It may not break much new ground, certainly not for instrumentation or other reasons given, but it’s one of the most solid albums all year. To hate it really would be extraordinary.