After a long break from making Tame Impala music, during which time Kevin Parker produced other people's albums and played in side projects, 2015's Currents shows that much has changed with the project. Like before, Parker recorded the album on his own, only this time without Dave Fridmann's guiding hand and by mostly forsaking electric guitars in favor of a wealth of synthesizers, and this time out there's a much more relaxed, intimate approach. In addition to the soft rock of the '70s feel that permeates the sound, Parker adds elements of R&B and hip-hop to the mix, gets lyrically introspective in spots, and generally sounds like he's either on the verge of a long nap or just waking up from one. These aren't bad things when done right, and Parker's prowess as a producer and musician makes most of Currents palatable, if not extremely exciting. However, by focusing on all these new elements, and by sleepwalking through at least half of the songs, this new way of doing things does a lot to frustrate the expectations of anyone looking to this album as another mind-blowing expression of guitar-heavy psych-pop. It's hard to deny artists the chance for change or growth, and Parker seems dedicated to both here. Where you can fault them is if they don't change or grow in an interesting or unique way. Great chunks of Currents sound like plenty of other bands and artists in 2015, especially since practically everyone with access to recording equipment did their own takes on midtempo, chilled-out R&B. Does Parker do it as well as others like Unknown Mortal Orchestra or Caribou? Sure, he does. Is it enough to make this album worth checking out? Yes, but it's not enough to make it an improvement over his previous work. At Tame Impala's best, they blend huge guitar sounds, melodic basslines, and vintage synths into sweeping psychedelic rock with energy and drive that feel hugely cinematic while still feeling real. There are only a couple times here when Parker comes close to that sweet spot. For example, the both "Let It Happen" and "Reality in Motion" have a good blend of guitars and synths and a sense of purpose that's often missing elsewhere. There are far more times where he strays too far from his strengths and gets bogged down in meandering, overly smoothed-out sounds and meandering songs that deliver no real payoff or sound half-baked at best, like the embarrassingly weak "Cause I'm a Man." It's too bad that Parker stashed his guitars away instead of keeping them around to add to the mix. It's definitely not a case of addition by subtraction; it's quite the opposite. While Currents would have made a decent Kevin Parker solo album, people coming to the album and expecting to hear the Tame Impala they are used to will most likely end up quite disappointed.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra