Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker once studied astronomy in university, which seems fitting—this plays like a psychedelic space opera, with galaxy-sized guitars playing over percussion that feels like planets colliding. And yet this supernova of sound actually accompanies a lyrical trip to inner space—not the grand destinations, but the common ones, the ones that would feel mundane if they weren’t so artfully rendered.
There are forays through familiar territory: love found and lost and never really given, the standard messing-with-my-heart that feels major because it happens to you, even though it happens to everyone. And those songs are actually quite awesome. (The album’s musical high point’s probably the looping “Keep On Lying,” a circular meta-song about the repetitiveness of our character defects, a song whose message is as much in its structure as in its lyrics. “I guess I’ll go and tell you just as soon as I get to the end of this song, to the end of this song, to the end of this song…” he croons, and not only does the lyric deliberately repeat, but the track fades in mid-song and fades out midway, implying that the listener will never get the promised explanation, just a lot of psychedelic guitar pyrotechnics that will hopefully distract them.) But the album has plenty of other things to say about the inner voyage; there are also great meditations on anonymity and stardom, on being special in a generation where everyone was told they were special—and then discovering that you are special, only nobody else knows it, and you don’t know how to deal with all the loneliness that entails.
“This could be the day that it goes through. It could be the day that all our dreams come true,” he coos on “Apocalypse Dreams,” and his angst will be familiar to anyone who’s ever waited for the life-changing deal, the big opportunity from the agent or the label, the Email That Will Change Everything. He does know he’s gotta pay his dues first—“I gotta bide my time as a face in the crowd,” he observes on “Gotta Be Above It.” But above and beyond that’s the longing for a truly transformative experience, a chance to pass through a stargate of sorts to a different world, out of the crowd and onto a stage and into our hearts. And yet he has the good sense to not only show sadness about the length of the journey, but worry about whether it’s even worthwhile: “Am I getting closer?” he asks. “Will I ever get there? Does it even matter?”
Given all the angst and alienation it’s appropriate, perhaps, that Parker’s from Perth, one of the most isolated big cities on the planet, the far end of the English-speaking world. But it should also be noted that he’s voicing the frustrations of an entire generation. On the basis of his sound and vocal qualities, he’s earned comparisons to John Lennon. To my mind it’s not entirely fair, partly because Tame Impala’s basically a solo project and, for my money, he’s better than Lennon was solo. (Although I’m hardly the first to notice this, it seems that without the input of the other Beatles, there were no checks on Lennon’s arty extravagances.) And he’s staking his own claim as a voice of a generation—albeit a fragmented generation, one where Beatles-like superstardom may no longer be possible because there is no more monoculture, less broadcasting, and instead a multitude of voices howling into the void.
It took me a few years to check this album out; I felt like it was being overrated—and there is, after all, SOOO MUCH music to listen to nowadays. Now I’m kicking myself for missing out. It’s retro and futuristic and timeless, and I suspect that when 2020 rolls around, it’ll be on my top ten of the decade.
By: Gerald Brennan