The enjoyable thing about Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker was its enduring sense of surprise — how its melting pot of Brit-pop, American psychedelia, and modern indie revealed different layers of itself within different contexts, like looking at a diamond through different levels of lighting. There were moments when, depending on your mood, it seemed like a revival record, a drug record, or a rock-out record. On your best days, it combined all three.
With Lonerism, Tame Impala have doubled down on the kaleidoscopic refractions of their debut. The melodies are clearer, pushed up in the mix, given agency by their immediacy. The psych bits have earned an assured swagger, spiraling out from the center of songs like “Music to Walk Home By” and “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” in avant-garde patterns and colors. Huge swells of synths are used to heighten the crescendos of “Mind Mischief” and “She Just Won’t Believe Me”, pushing into more dramatic territories than Innerspeaker ever traversed.
The subject matter is more dramatic as well, talking about the oldest form of drama in the book: love and girls and girls and love. Song titles like “Keep On Lying”, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, and “She Just Won’t Believe Me” wouldn’t be out of place on a Dashboard Confessional track list. But given the perpetual dream-sleep quality of Kevin Parker’s voice, those sentiments come off as glassy-eyed and bemused, as opposed to earnest and overwrought. That difference seems intentional, as though Tame Impala are singing about love stories in dreams. Or movies. Or movies about dreams.
Innerspeaker trafficked in that sleepy distance, too, as if it were a thing to be observed and not inhabited. In that way, it was able to carve out its own space inside your head. Lonerism, on the other hand, feels as though it wants to invite you into its head, then shut the door. The killer hooks of “Mind Mischief”, the garage stomp of “Elephant”, and the outro of “Music to Walk Home By” should be thunderous, earth-shaking moments, but they’re undermined Lonerism‘s many insecurities. “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” repeats its title phrase over and over until it becomes the laugh track cue to a bad sitcom. The more you keep asking, dude, the less anyone wants to talk to you. Even soaked in reverb, tangerine dreams, and marshmallow pies, this kind of uncertain hand-wringing can get tedious. And the closing song, “Sun’s Coming Up” is grating and obnoxious enough on its own even before its paired with its meandering, unfocused coda.
But it’s only occasionally that this phenomenon occurs– the first half of “Keep on Lying”, the wobbling, vaguely tuneless keys on the outro of “Nothing That Has Happened…”, most of “She Just Won’t Believe Me”. It’s at these times that the music too accurately reflects nervous, uncertain characteristics of its narrators. With their debut, Tame Impala crafted a record that burrowed into you and filled that space with a smorgasboard of redshifting sound palettes. It’s only the best moments on Lonerism that do the same, where the Australian trio rends swathes of impressionist colors out of their arrangements, digging into your subconscious and making its home there. Lonerism doesn’t always succeed in this way. When it does, it’s when it wants to live in you instead of asking you to live in it.
Essential Tracks: “Mind Mischief”, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, “Elephant”