The rigid conventions that stick to the phrase ‘psychedelia’ are in stark contrast to the phrase itself. The 1960s and 70s psychedelic movement saw everyone from ELO to The Ramones create avant-garde music with conceptual themes, a unique outlook and a one-of-a-kind ability. Kevin Parker is the latest in the line of psychedelic pin-ups but whereas the aforementioned bands were just a regurgitation and reaction to John Lennon’s work, Parker and his band Tame Impala truly tap into the notion of psychedelia in a way that nobody has in the last fifty years.
The themes of their second LP Lonerism are basically synonyms of the title itself: heartbreak, isolation, the morose and the sense of un-belonging. The album has typical Tame Impala DNA (or rather West Perth DNA) running through it. Just like side-project Pond, the band are renowned for their ability to stretch the abilities of production and sound engineering whilst concurrently keeping its listener self-aware and in touch with their spirit.
Recorded in Parker’s bedroom, the band embody the sense of psychedelia like no-one else and it’s easy to see why given the pioneering aura of The Beatles and The Doors. Whilst debut album Innerspeaker was voted Rolling Stone’s album of 2010, this album signals a continuation rather than a departure. Lonerism, despite the title, is actually a much more confident affair. Parker has honed his skills over the last two years, creating a sense of who he is and what his band can achieve. ‘Be Above It’ opens with a shimmering drum beat and, as a result of the production location, sounds infectious given it’s live concert feel. ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, the first track released off the record, has harmonies which fall over you in a wave of fuzzy reverb guitars with a pounding piano.
The vocal likeness to Lennon is uncanny. Parker sounds like the Beatles icon reincarnate, an odd British-twang to his voice that resonated with both listeners and critics alike back in 2010. However, now it seems he has embodied Lennon’s raw lyrics too. ‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me?’ (with an unmistakable ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ similarity) contains an emotional honesty which makes Parker’s lyricism particularly impressive. ”I’m so alone, nothing for me” the frontman breathes, perhaps showing a debt to the detached and confessional lyrics on The Plastic Ono Band LP. The song perhaps shows the best part of the album, with an echo and dream-like vocal in contrast to a dreamy, spacious sound.
‘Keep On Lying’ is clearly indebted to Hendrix’s hard rock psychedelia and probably the most out-and-out rock’n’roll song on the album, complete with crowd-talking and laughing in a ‘Revolution 9’ style nod. Parker’s lyrics continue to grow bleaker, as do his song titles. ‘Mind Mischief’ and ‘Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control’ are perhaps sly LSD references but I won’t read into it to much. Parker would probably have nightmares thinking anyone could understand him. He is a loner, after all.
The greatest moment comes with the latter song. A blistering crescendo that is so saturated in psychedelia that you expect Parker to appear next to you smoking marijuana. The Beatles comparisons will no doubt continue to be made, but that suggest Tame Impala lack originality and vision. In truth, they are probably the most musically gifted band on the planet, and this record is a sense of what can be achieved through a harrowing isolation and deeply-positioned ability. The ability to embody so many artists of the past is an incredible feat – ‘Elephant’, for example, is as much Queens of the Stone Age as it is glam – but Kevin Parker has the ability to be better than all of them.
Make no mistake, this record is the definitive record of the year. It’s production is flawless and the scope to create a record like this is incredibly brave. It’s clever, contemporary and downright catchy. Parker is someone who probably doesn’t want the praise. His reaction to having famous fans like Paul Weller, Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher and Dave Grohl was ”so what?”. Tame Impala are in a league of their own. They won’t get the money other artists do, but that’s fine for Kevin Parker. He’ll be in his bedroom, writing his next masterpiece.
By James Daniel Rodger
Dance Yrself Clean