Five years of Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’: The album that made Kevin Parker a legend
In February 2020, KEVIN PARKER released his fourth Tame Impala studio album. Titled The Slow Rush, it was a soundtrack for a leap into the unknown, and the culmination of five years of rapid change Parker experienced as he went from an alternative psych-rock loner to one of the most in-demand producers and collaborators in the world. The album that spurred this on was his 2015 opus, Currents. A maximalist, disco-leaning, pop record and a deeply personal reckoning with the demise of a relationship and his life as he knew it, Parker might’ve felt more lost than ever before when making this album but by releasing it, he would find his place in the world. Now, five years later, Currents still holds up as one of the best albums of the 2010s, remaining as relevant as ever in a time when the entire world faces its own reckoning too.
In his review for Pitchfork, Ian Cohen wrote, “[T]he question of whether Currents is better than his first two albums is beside the point: it stands completely apart.” And this is true. Currents wasn’t so much a third album, but the beginning of something else entirely. It was the start of Kevin Parker‘s open embracing of pop, his deep dive into the world of electronic music, and the pioneering record that would see hipsters everywhere realise finally that pop isn’t a dirty word after all. Kevin Parker was producing for Lady Gaga. Rihanna would go on to Tame Impala from this very album. Ariana Grande was working with Cashmere Cat. This was the time where the mainstream was tapping into alternative spaces, and alternative stars were finding homes as newly minted superstars in their own right.
The pivot to pop music didn’t surprise keen Parker fans. Prior to Currents, he appeared on the pop behemoth that was Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Special’, and in 2012 he told Pitchfork he’d written an entire album’s worth of songs for Kylie Minogue. He and the rest of the Tame Impala live band covered Outkast’s ‘Prototype’ for their 2013 Like A Version, and unsurprisingly when he returned two years later for the same segment, he chose Minogue’s ‘Confide In Me’. He’s always loved pop, but on Currents, he was done shying away from it.
From the opening notes of ‘Let It Happen’, Parker makes a bold statement that this time, things are different. The 8-minute epic heralded in not just the album, but a new era sonically and personally for Tame Impala. From the odyssey of ‘Let It Happen’ into the one-two punch of ‘Nangs’ and ‘The Moment’, the sheer level of meticulous sound design and production on display was unrivalled not just in previous Tame Impala records, but among Parker‘s peers too. Coming out just a month after Jamie xx‘s In Colour, Parker now found himself operating on the same level when it comes to creating and using space in his productions, creating entire soundscapes with painstaking precision.
‘Yes I’m Changing’ and it’s swooning hook bled into the stuttered grooves of ‘Eventually’ as Parker opened up in a warts-and-all approach for his songwriting. With his lyrics, Parker put his personal life front and centre for all to see. From the devastating lament in ”Cause I’m A Man’, to the forlorn anxiety of closing song, ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’, his lyrics might almost err on wallowing if it weren’t for how expertly universal he manages to keep them. While deeply personal, he still manages to create enough space for his listeners to inject their own lives into each song, and by doing so created a record that allowed him to connect on a level he had never quite before with his fans.
From experimental trips like ‘Gossip’ or ‘Disciples’ to songs Parker had no idea would be so successful like ‘The Less I Know The Better’ (which would go on to take out triple J’s Hottest 100 of the Decade in early 2020), Currents is a melting pot of so many different sounds. Soul, funk, jazz, hip hop, disco, indie and more are all swirled into the pop melting pot Parker was brewing. Songs made for stadiums or Coachella-headlining festival slots were slotted in with cuts custom made for bedroom listening sessions, and any hint that there might be another ‘Elephant’ or ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ on the cards was firmly quashed.
In albums leading up to 2015, Parker managed to remain somewhat shrouded in effects and lush atmospherics, providing him with ample places to hide. On Currents, the meticulous nature of his music now and the unrelenting pursuit to reach the unattainable “perfection” that Parker now strived to achieve meant there was no more hiding. In the time leading up to this record’s release, Parker had delivered two critically acclaimed albums, created a monster hit in ‘Elephant’ and begun to amass a loyal following as a John Lennon-esque, psychedelic rock king. With Currents, he completely took control of his narrative, doing things now on his terms regardless of what that sounded like. He took a huge creative risk but held strong and released a record that was so true to himself, and its this that allowed fans to connect more than ever with him. This now certified musical legend was still a human after all and by completely accepting this, he evolved from the bare-footed stoner from Perth with a couple of hits under his belt into a globally recognised force du jour.
By tapping into his deep longing for whatever his life was while openly journalling his anxieties about what might still be to come, Currents chronicles the highs and lows of growing up and all the change that comes with it. With whatever “normal life” meant for many of us at the start of this year now no longer existing, in 2020 we can all relate to that deep sense of longing: for something new, for change, for more. It’s fitting then that this record, five years later, proves its viability as one of the best of its decade with how relevant it remains. A dazzling, electrifying and game changing body of work that cemented Kevin Parker’s status as one of the best there ever was, while also doubling as a record designed to hold a necessary mirror to one’s life, even when it hurts to look, Currents is an utterly human story from a man who turned into a legend in the process.
Words by Emma Jones