There are certain albums–for example, the Beastie Boy’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two–that you can listen to while doing mindless tasks and still enjoy the music. It’s “party” music. Other albums require you to be in a certain head space to absorb them. Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker is one of those albums (I will never forget when my younger self put on The Wall during a beach trip with my brother, who subsequently turned it off while insisting, “this isn’t beach music!”).
I was (illegally) sent a copy of Innerspeaker–the bands debut album–by a close friend who’s musical tastes often coincide with mine. And when they don’t, he still has a pretty good grasp on knowing what I might find interesting and within my stylistic preferences. Tame Impala is a band he thought would fit that mold…and he was 100% correct. His selling points were: great vocal harmonies, cool production, catchy songs, and oh yea, the singer sounds just like Paul McCartney. He was right about everything except the singer doesn’t sound like Macca…he sounds almost identical to John Lennon (and that is not a bad thing in my book).
Upon my initial listen, I will admit that it took me some time to get over that fact: holy shit, this guy really sounds like Lennon! I played some songs for friends under the guise of, “you gotta hear this singers voice!” Then after a few more spins I started to find myself singing the chorus’ for days on end and studying the production (Dave Fridmann–mostly of Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips fame–mixed the album). Innerspeaker was really starting to grow on me.
The opening track, “It Is Not Meant To Be,” starts off with a flanged-out guitar track and walking bass line before a second arpeggiated guitar line kicks in followed by the inevitable drumbeat. Then it stops. Then the ghost of John Lennon appears. From this point on, the band takes you on a trip (no pun intended) through a mixture of 60’s psychedelic pop (“Desire Be Desire Go,” “Lucidity”), synthesized dance rock (“Alter Ego”), proggy instrumental (“Jeremy’s Storm”), and Band of Gypsies meets Cream meets Queens of the Stone Age (“Island Walking,” “The Bold Arrow of Time”–my personal favorite on the album). Throughout listening to Innerspeaker, your ears are treated to an array of fancy studio techniques, panning, delays, reverbs, and dynamic auditory assaults. In the end though, all that really matters is whether or not you like the songs, not how successful a band is at pulling off studio “tricks.”
Unlike other “psych rock” acts that spend more time trying to lull you into a daze with atmospheric layers of sound, Tame Impala have a great sense of the song. Even with the layers of effects, distorted guitars, trippy lyrics, and mind-altering production, their music is quite accessible and upbeat. You can throw this album on at a party and not worry that your guests are going to get bored or space out (though they certainly could do that as well…quite easily in fact). Which brings me back to my original paragraph: Yes, Innerspeaker is the kind of album you “need to be in the mood to listen to,” but it’s also the kind that has the ability to be both “heady” and “fun” at the same time.
It’s hard to get into a lot of new bands that do the retro sound, either due to their lack of creativity in expanding upon the original or that they are simply rehashing The Stooges and The Stones. While Tame Impala certainly isn’t breaking any new sonic boundaries with Innerspeaker, if this is how good they can be with their first crack at it, I can only hope this is their Rubber Soul. Which means Revolver, Sgt. Peppers, The White Album, and Abbey Road are still to come. That’s good news for fans.
And for John Lennon’s ghost.