By David M. Goldstein | 24 July 2015
It’s an affliction that attacks otherwise healthy music fans in the 27 to 32 age range, usually sandwiched between the twin epiphanies of “hey, Hall & Oates were actually kind of awesome!” and “why yes, I would love to see Huey Lewis perform Sports (1984) in full with all founding members of the News!” As inevitable as it is unavoidable, I’m talking about the Phil Collins critical re-evaluation. Once the bane of your early twenties existence, one day you wake up itching for a taste of that sweet No Jacket Required (1985) like a junkie needs that golden brown. You marvel at the way the Earth, Wind & Fire horns mesh so seamlessly with the electric drum pads on “Sussudio”; you wonder how you could have thought for so long that “Don’t Lose My Number” was actually called “Billy”; you feel a slight pang of sadness when you realize that “Against All Odds” isn’t on here, and scramble looking for a Greatest Hits record on Spotify. Most of us don’t earn our living as professional musicians, and therefore don’t work through our Phil Collins issues in the recording studio. But 29-year-old Kevin Parker does. And homeboy has it bad.
Remember a few years ago how Michael McDonald raised eyebrows and prompted hipsters to download Minute By Minute (1978) by recording a straight-faced take on Grizzly Bear’s “While You Wait for the Others”? Last I checked Phil Collins was leading a hermetic lifestyle surrounded by his seven-figure collection of Alamo-related memorabilia (really). But he could totally jumpstart his career with a cover of “Yes I’m Changing” off of the new Tame Impala record. It’s the one song on Currents that sounds like it’s practically begging to be taken over by the man’s achy tenor, and there’s a keyboard noise at the 45 second mark lifted wholesale from the theme to Doogie Howser M.D. Kevin Parker is not one for half measures.
Yet, despite his newfound predilection for ’80s blue-eyed soul, you’ll know within the first 15 seconds of opener “Let it Happen” that Currents is the work of no other band; Parker still sounds uncannily like John Lennon and his production skills remain firmly indebted to Revolver (1966) and Are You Experienced? (1967), studying the drum sound on “Third Stone From the Sun” with a lapidary’s eye for detail and using a flanger pedal with a frequency most would consider “excessive.” But the guitars are dialed way back in favor of ’80s synths, and the emphasis is on pop songs as opposed to ragged psych-jams. It’s also the one Tame Impala record that sounds the least like the work of an actual band and more like one guy driving himself crazy in an elaborate home studio. Granted, Lonerism (2012) was made that way too, but at least maintained the illusion of collaboration; here Parker sounds naked, and now saddled with the newfound expectations of a festival headliner to boot.
But any worries are misplaced. Parker has impeccable taste and such confidence in his abilities that he wasn’t about to flood the market with dreck. His closest comparison in this regard might be Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, another modern shapeshifter who couldn’t put out anything less than great if she tried. So of course a Tame Impala album going the full Collins is still going to be highly listenable, meticulously crafted, and yet still have just enough shaggy psych-rock bon bons (“Let it Happen,” “Reality in Motion”) to appease longtime fans because fifty-one straight minutes of soul ballads would spell doom for the live show. The ten-minute sequence from “Yes, I’m Changing” through “Gossip” nearly buckles from being a touch too smooth for its own good, but I recommend simply laying back with headphones and letting the cheese wash over you while marveling at Parker’s skills as an arranger. Rest assured you will have no such issues with the languid funk of advance single “’Cause I’m a Man,” which still possesses the catchiest chorus of 2015, and “The Moment,” which bites both a beat and chords from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” resulting in an equally excellent pop song showcasing Kevin Parker’s newfound falsetto to great effect.
Most of the recent broadsides leveled against Currents are some variation of “too smooth” or “lacking any edges,” both of which aren’t entirely invalid; it could have benefited from an additional burst of forward propulsion a la Innerspeaker (2010) jam “Desire Be Desire Go” or the hard funk of a “Mind Mischief.” But it also maintains a level of album length consistency that to this point has been Parker’s Achilles ’ heel (can you even name any of the Lonerism tracks after “Elephant”?). Ultimately, you’re in good hands here: Currents is a highly confident statement from an artist that while worshipping at the altar of late-‘60s psych, knows exactly what he likes and is only beginning to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of. After all, he’s only 29, and the Phil Collins bug usually leaves your system by the dawn of your mid-thirties. I can’t wait until he discovers grunge.