Album Review: Tame Impala – Lonerism
Album Review: Tame Impala – Lonerism by Nathan Brooks
This review is one of our entries for the special best reviewers competition we’re running as part of the Leicester ArtBeat Festival 2016. Check it out and enter – there’s still time!
Tame Impala sound like a band. The music they produce has many different layers of sound to it and it is incredibly complex. Technically they are a band live, but all the recordings you hear on the actual albums are done entirely by one guy. Kevin Parker, a multi-instrumentalist from Perth, Australia, writes, performs, produces and mixes all of the music, but it doesn’t sound like it. You’d expect to hear just a lone performer strumming away timidly on his acoustic guitar, but you don’t.
You hear electric guitars and synthesisers playing beautiful melodies, face melting basslines and captivatingly intricate drum beats across all of his music. Lonerism is Tame Impala’s second studio album, released in 2012, and follows on from their fantastic debut, InnerSpeaker, released in 2010. Lonerism is a brilliant extension of the ‘60s rock sound established in their first album. This album, like their debut, is very lo-fi, giving the whole project a very authentic 1960s feel, but Tame Impala have also managed to weave in an even larger variety of sounds, techniques and influences than before.
Album Review: Tame Impala – Lonerism
There’s obvious influence from The Beatles here, especially in the vocals, which Parker has said “often crept into the recordings, because they are so unique.” The music as well has many psychedelic elements to it. Mind Mischief and Feels Like We Only Go Backwards are particularly notable examples of this, featuring trippy vocals, distorted instruments and strange, disjointed melodies. It’s very reminiscent of The Beatles’ 1967 albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, as they’re much more psychedelic than their previous, more poppy output, or their later blues rock work.
You can also hear influences from Pink Floyd, particularly when they were under Syd Barrett’s leadership and their 1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This focused a lot more on riffs and melodies with a more conventional rock structure than their later ‘60s work and had a far more trippy, psychedelic sound than their ‘70s (and beyond) work. The seventh track on that album, Interstellar Overdrive, is a song that builds entirely around one fantastic guitar riff, much like a lot of the tracks on Lonerism, particularly Elephant, which also showcases influence from Cream with its merging of both hard rock and psychedelic rock sounds.
Lonerism sums up themes of loneliness and solitude
The lyrics, however, are very much Kevin Parker’s own. “Lonerism” pretty much sums up the theme of this album (which is good, seeing as that is what album titles are supposed to do), with a lot of focus on loneliness and solitude. The lyrics can have a more repetitive, poppy style, like Why Won’t They Talk to Me? and It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards. Whilst they are certainly catchy (and the music is still top notch), they can’t help but seem a bit weak in comparison to the lyrics of the other songs, although they’re certainly not bad in the slightest.
The lyrics can also be more observational and critical, like Elephant, which takes a look at (and tears apart) a narcissistic, overconfident character who “talks like his opinion is a simple fact”. It reminds me a lot of the Arctic Monkeys lyrical style, especially their song When the Sun Goes Down, which focuses specifically on a single character, although Tame Impala, being Australian, are a lot less unapologetically British.
Lyrics take shape with emotional, personal tracks like Sun’s Coming Up
The lyrics really start to take shape with the more emotional and personal tracks like Sun’s Coming Up, which is primarily about Parker dealing with loss, particularly his father Jerry, who died of cancer whilst Parker was recording InnerSpeaker. These tracks always come off as very genuine, but also manage to never cross the line into irritating self-pity, instead allowing the listener to sympathise with Parker simply through the events themselves, combined with his vocals and the consistently fantastic music.
The track that really showcases Parker’s full talents, however, is Keep on Lying. This is without a shadow of a doubt the most complex and well written track on the album. Parker sings about a relationship he, or the persona he’s playing, has, in which he is constantly lying to his other half. There’s a line where Parker says he’ll finally stop lying just as soon as he gets “to the end of this song”, but he never reaches the end, because the song fades out at the same point it fades in at, meaning the track, just like the lies, keeps on going forever. Keep on Lying also uses a lot of ambient sound effects of groups of people talking during the instrumentals, much like Pink Floyd used to do, giving the whole song a fantastic sense of a chatty, gossip filled atmosphere.
Parker doesn’t muck about with metaphors, getting straight to the point
Throughout the whole album, the lyrics are very clear and no-nonsense. Parker doesn’t muck about with similes or metaphors, preferring to get straight to the point and coming off as far sincerer because of it. They’re not much like his influences’ lyrics. They’re not quirky and whimsical like Syd Barrett’s or anything like whatever the heck it is The Beatles are going on about half the time. They’re clearly straight from him and are much more unique than a lot of other neo-psychedelic artists, like Tame Impala’s “sister band” Pond (and really a lot of other alternative music artists), whose lyrics often fail to come off as real as Kevin Parker’s and instead seem like a bit of an afterthought. I don’t have too much of a problem with this, to me the music should always be the primary focus, but I’m certainly not going to complain about a little extra thought being put into whatever it is the artist is singing underneath all those brilliant sounds.
Lonerism isn’t as revolutionary as the albums it’s inspired by. It doesn’t change the face of music forever like The Beatles or Pink Floyd. What it is, however, is 52 minutes of gorgeously produced music, mixed with genuinely well written lyrics, serving as a unique, rather than innovative, love letter to the insane, madcap genius of the 1960s.