It seems that Kevin Parker will never be happy with taking the indie world by storm. It just isn’t enough. While some fans would be happy to hear his debut “Innerspeaker” over and over again, those looking for a change of pace are likely to find a lot to like about Tame Impala’s third album, “Currents.” The fuzzed-out guitar of Parker’s debut is entirely absent, replaced by variegated cascades of synthesizers and dance beats. It’s undoubtedly different, but different doesn’t always translate into better. Parker’s third foray into the Tame Impala canon starts admirably with a series of invigorating cuts, but “Currents” gradually drifts away in Parker’s own ambition for change. Swept by the currents, indeed.
The album’s biggest problem isn’t its quality: it’s the record’s slow dive into monotony. “Let It Happen” may be the best opener Parker has ever recorded, full of vibrant synths and romping disco beats, but the luster of Tame Impala’s shiny new aesthetic quickly wears off. By the time “The Less I Know the Better” comes around, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that this exact song played just a few minutes ago. For all purposes, it did. Parker has clearly fallen head over heels for his shining new psychedelic dance persona. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sound, but by album’s end the whole proceeding washes over like waves of obfuscated noise. Tracks like “Reality in Motion” drag the album to a grinding halt as it repeats the same tricks heard minutes earlier and serve only as deadweight to pan out the running time.
Monotony isn’t the only issue plaguing Parker’s latest opus: bizarre songwriting quirks spring up like weeds. “Past Life” is the worst offender, beginning with an irritating spiral of synth repeated ad nausea beneath a low-register, roboticized spoken-word intro. Just when the irritation ends and a song starts to emerge, the baffling narration returns for continued sabotage. “Let It Happen,” the album’s highlight, isn’t free of problems, either. Midway through, the same note repeats for thirteen seconds straight. It was literally as though the media file had been corrupted and glitched into a loop, but for some reason this was determined to be a desirable effect. It’s inexplicable, and it doesn’t do the album any favors.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though; there are gems to be found here. “Yes I’m Changing” is a remarkably pretty ballad, full of confessional self-inflicted barbs and crooned exclamations of “bullshit.” Parker’s admissions feel genuine enough warrant a considerable emotional response from the listener, securing its spot as one of the album’s key tracks. Album closer “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” injects some much-needed life into the proceedings with its expansive, electric sweep, and “The Moment” works well as an early album energizer with its charming boot-heel stomp and Parker’s spaced-out recollections of dance-floor magic. Lines like “I fell in love with the sound of my heels on the wooden floor, I don’t want our footsteps to be silent anymore” work well to sell any hesitant listeners on Parker’s new aesthetic.
Moments like these, though, come few and far between the further one delves into “Currents.” It’s an album of jolting revolutions without the backbone to support them. Engaging songwriting, typically one of Parker’s strengths, seems to disappear half-way through the album, leaving the listener to wonder whether the magic is truly gone or whether it’s been buried beneath top-dollar production sheen and endless barrage of electric noises. Unfortunately, “Currents” is likely a better album title than Parker realized. The further he ventures from that illustrious debut, the further and further away he’s drawn from what made his music special in the first place.