I think Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is slowly becoming a real life version of Don Draper. The obvious connection can be seen in their shared creative brilliance – Draper in the fictional world of Mad Men with his ability to come up with advertising ideas off the cuff and Parker’s track record of releasing psychedelic pop music tailored for the 21st century. But the connection goes deeper than just their mutual ingenuity. The similarity I see is in how both struggle with change.
During the final two seasons of Mad Men, many loyal fans jumped ship due in large part to the show’s retreading of familiar tropes. Unlike most dramas, the antagonist never really showed growth. Instead, he continued his cycle of infidelity and alcoholism, followed by a fleeting realization of his mistakes before returning back again to his vices. Even the finale suggested that he hadn’t really changed during his West Coast spirit quest, finding only an idea for a Coke advertisement waiting for him on the cliffs of Big Sur. Instead of seeing Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner as a pessimist, I like to believe he wanted to show the struggles found in the human condition, that internal yearning for change and growth followed by the eventual return to our bad habits.
On Currents, Parker deals with this same perpetual struggle with change. Early in the album on the aptly titled “Yes, I’m Changing,” Parker insists that people are able to learn from mistakes and grow. He sings confidently about his metamorphosis and talks of the bright future ahead of him (all while breaking it to a girl that it’s over). However, by album closer “New Person, Same Mistakes,” he reveals his return to his “demons,” and he questions why he “Feel(s) like a brand new person/ but make(s) the same old mistakes.”
“Yes, I’m Changing”:
Musically, the album plays with this same idea of change. The 13 tracks on Currents are almost completely devoid of guitars, a huge change for an artist Gene Simmons called the last great rock n’ roll band. I imagine Simmons will be shaking his head in disgust when he hears Currents, a synth driven pop album with DJ embellishments throughout. Album opener “Let It Happen” has a jarring moment where the music skips hypnotically before a dramatic synth sweeps in to save the day. The EDM moment is an in-your-face reveal to the listener that Tame Impala’s sound has changed. Whether Parker’s new electronic approach is better or not is up for debate, but his ability to construct intricate pop gems with memorable melodies remains in tact. Parker’s psychedelic take on electronic music often mirrors the innovations of Daniel Snaith of Caribou fame.
Tame Impala’s sonic shift isn’t the only polarizing element of Currents. Lyrically, the album is more frank and candid than past work. On the first two albums, Parker seemed like an insecure loner in need of companionship, but on Currents, he’s a brash, confident man about town who always puts himself first. On “Eventually” he breaks up with a girl telling her “I know that I’ll be happier,” followed by the aside “and I know you will be too, eventually.” He follows this break-up song with “The Less I Know the Better” and “Past Life,” both exploring the feelings of jealousy that arise when you see a past lover with someone else. On “The Less I Know the Better” he seeks revenge by rubbing another relationship in her face, and on “Past Life” he contemplates calling her, realizing that he hasn’t changed after all.
“The Less I Know the Better”:
On an album of less than flattering lyrics, “’Cause I’m a Man” might be the most contentious of all. In it, the narrator explains his infidelities to his girlfriend in the most machismo of ways, singing “I’m a man, woman,/ don’t always think before I do.” The song’s breezy, soulful feel butts heads with his insistence that his manhood can’t be tamed. Once again, the song explores the idea of this inability to change, stuck in a current of temptations that continues to pull him away from the shore.
I can understand why someone would be offended or disgusted by the selfish, vindictive person portrayed on Currents, but I also commend Parker for discussing human error in the most blunt of ways. Break-ups can be poisonous. People can be egocentric. And yes, men can be assholes. Which brings me back to Don Draper, an egocentric asshole who always realized his mistakes a bit too late. What makes artists like Kevin Parker and Matthew Weiner so great is their unwillingness to blur the edges, laying the faults of mankind out for us to see in all their ugliness. Despite these realities glaring back at us, both men present these ideas in ways that are striking and captivating.