I’ve finally figured out why I don’t get Tame Impala and it’s not my fault, it’s theirs. More specifically, since Tame Impala is Kevin Parker’s solo project, it’s his fault.
…these days actual criticism is heavily frowned upon, so I felt constrained from ever being able to write about Tame Impala, because I had nothing good to say about them.
Ever since they released Innerspeaker in 2010 and word really began to spread about this phenomenon that was bubbling up in Fremantle, I’ve had friends — people who really know their stuff — constantly saying to me, “Have you heard Tame Impala? They’re (insert superlative of your choice here).”
I knew something was really happening when New Musical Express started banging on about Tame Impala and Perth Psych in just about every second edition. This was back when the mag still had some credibility, so it just confirmed what I was hearing at home, Kevin Parker was really onto something.
So, of course, I bought the music and listened. I think there’s still a copy of Lonerism buried in the depths of my glove box. And I listened earnestly and often, because I knew this was an important band, but my epiphany never came.
I’ve had similar experiences with other bands. Around the time that Radiohead’s OK Computer confirmed that they were just about the most important band to ever walk the planet, I also had people telling me constantly how good they were. I listened and, for a good while, I didn’t get it. I admit I can be a laggard, set in my ways, but I’m always willing to try new music and I have such fear of not fitting in and of missing out that, if my peers are telling me it’s good and I don’t get it, the conclusion I draw is that I’m the one who’s out of step.
Unlike Tame Impala, Radiohead’s magnificence finally filtered into my synapses. I remember listening to OK Computer in my car one evening after work, for just about the millionth time, and by the time ‘Electioneering’ came on, I finally got it! I was so excited, I called one of my mates and yelled down the phone at him, “I get it! I finally get it!” while the album continued to play at full blast. I was almost as excited as the 13-year old me discovering bands like The Clash and The Jam for the first time.
Reflecting on that moment and still struggling with Kevin Parker’s output over the last decade, I’ve recently concluded that it must be an age thing. There comes a time in every contemporary music lover’s life when the new stuff doesn’t take any more, no matter how good it is. For me, that time must have arrived around the same time as Tame Impala became a thing. Having reached this conclusion, I was forgiving of myself when, listening to each successive Tame Impala release, the cacophony of gushing media praise ringing in my ears, all I could hear were blandishments that didn’t speak to me at all. I felt no hairs raise on the back of my neck, no jolt of recognition in any of the lyrics, no increased heart rate hearing any of the hooks. Nothing.
I marked down Tame Impala as the one that got away, because, to my way of thinking, how could they be dull if everyone else in the entire world thinks they’re it and a lot more than a bit? It was a question that troubled me for a while for two reasons. First, as I became more involved in working in the music industry and, particularly, writing about music, I privately felt just a little bit fraudulent because I was out of step on this seminal artist. Second, these days actual criticism is heavily frowned upon, so I felt constrained from ever being able to write about Tame Impala, because I had nothing good to say about them.
I’ve seen the band play live, I’ve listened to their music, including latest release, The Slow Rush, and I still think the best thing I could say about Tame Impala is that, to borrow from Douglas Adams, they’re “mostly harmless.” But I’ve never been able to bring myself to say it out loud.
Lately, though, I’ve had time to rethink my position. In our pandemic-avoidant isobunkers, we’ve all had time to think. It dawned on me that I’ve been wrong all along. Not about Tame Impala being bland (they most certainly are), but about being too old to ‘get’ the latest thing.
How do I know I’m right and the rest of the world is wrong? Simple. Since I reached a certain age, there are plenty of other bands that have turned out to be massive — a lot of them contemporaries of Tame Impala’s — that I do ‘get’. For example: Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Muse, Florence + The Machine, Parquet Courts, The Black Keys, Maroon 5 … When I stop to think about it, the list is quite long. I’m not too old. You’re never too old! OK, you may never capture the intensity of the 13-year old whose life is defined by the music they listen to during those formative years, I get that, but there’s always room for the new. I live to discover the new, it’s part of who I am.
So, it’s personal taste, that’s why I don’t cotton to Tame Impala, dare I say it, don’t like their music?
Well, perhaps, but thinking about it further (still got plenty of time on my hands), it’s a bit more than that. Looking ahead and back at the same time, and using some of the objectively great bands and artists as a reference — think The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Queen, Chic, David Bowie and Lou Reed to name just a few — it’s difficult to envisage Tame Impala as a band that will endure to define and soundtrack the lives of a generation. Sure they’re massive right now, but in 10, 20, 50 years’ time, no one will be humming their songs and reflecting on how they helped us to interpret and feel the times during which they were a creative force.
See, we’re back to bland again. Being massively popular in the now isn’t enough. Being a creative genius, which Kevin Parker undoubtedly is, is only part of it. To achieve true greatness an artist has to be memorable beyond their current success and Tame Impala’s music simply hasn’t got what it takes to endure in this way. Sure, it’s slickly produced uber pop, but give it time and people will wonder what all the fuss was about.
Come at me. I’m still open to that epiphany, but time is running out.