There are a number of artistic works – movies, musical compositions or albums, paintings, et cetera – that have made such a strong impression on me that I find myself returning to them over and over. “Currents,” the third studio album from the Australian band Tame Impala, is one such work.
When “Currents” was released in 2015, it divided Tame Impala’s fan base. While the group’s first two albums could be comfortably classified as psychedelic rock, “Currents” incorporated synth, psych-pop and even new-wave elements in nearly every track, and while it is arguably just as ‘psychedelic’ as its predecessors, the album was still an unwelcome stylistic departure for many fans. As a long-time admirer of Tame Impala, I instantly disagreed with the detractors, and three years later, “Currents” is still my favorite Tame Impala project as well as one of my all-time favorite albums.
I’ll begin by addressing an aspect of the album that serves as an entry point for what I believe to be both a major strength and weakness. The vocal work in “Currents” is its major weak point. Nearly every lyrical track features the same remote, nasally falsetto of front man Kevin Parker. Parker’s voice is usually digitally altered to give the impression that he is singing to you from the opposite end of a massive, empty room.
His melodies all have a similarly broad, yawning cadence, and although this style has become a defining feature of Tame Impala’s music, I feel that it does not mesh well with the synth-driven grooves that are found throughout “Currents.” The lyrics often seem to sit on top of the rest of the mix, without adding much in the way of counterpoint or texture. However, the lyrics themselves are rich with meaning, and if listened to carefully can contribute greatly to one’s experience of “Currents.”
The narrative of “Currents” follows a person who decides to make a major change in their life and leave a former lover. Their perspective on life shifts, but after a period of introspection and reflection – explored on tracks like “Past Lives” and “The Less I Know The Better” – the narrator realizes that they are still essentially the same as before. They long for their former lover and begin to dwell on the same insecurities that caused them to leave their lover in the first place.
The takeaway, in my eyes at least, is that painful change, insecurity and self-doubt are universals of human experience, and that all we can do in the face of such a reality is to accept ourselves as we are. This notion is first suggested in the opening track, “Let It Happen.” It is examined and critiqued over the course of the album until, in the final track, the narrator exclaims, “Man, I know that it’s hard to digest – but maybe your story ain’t so different from the rest.” They have finally come full circle, losing their will to “forget their old self” and swim against the currents of life and instead resigning themselves to just accept their human nature and go with the flow.
For me, this is a meaningful message, and Tame Impala’s lush, synthetic soundscapes provide a fitting backdrop and thematic complement to the philosophical ideas that it comments upon. Ultimately, the occasionally obnoxious vocals don’t detract from the album’s overall impression, and the clarity of Tame Impala’s artistic intention for “Currents” makes it unforgettable.