In the spot once filled by Prince, Guns N’ Roses, Radiohead, and Paul McCartney, there was Tame Impala, who fittingly played with the enthusiasm of a sedated woodlands creature. There’s nothing to dislike about Tame Impala, and that’s their greatest attribute. They’re as pleasant as a Target lava lamp, CBD oil in band form, Pink Floyd without the point. A friend of a friend murmured, “I feel like I’ve seen them a bunch of times at Coachella but I guess I’ve never seen them?” At three different points during their set, I forgot they were playing. It was like listening to a “Recommended if You Like Indica” playlist.
This is coming from someone who likes Tame Impala; I’m just baffled at how they’ve become the biggest rock band of the decade. Their first album Innerspeaker, is a modern psychedelic classic, even if Dungen gave them an entire style to run with. But whereas Estjes sang in Swedish, a decision that clearly halted his crossover success, Kevin Parker grafted John Lennon’s reedy whine to lyrics about modern ennui. The product was unimpeachable. You could take two hits of a roach, listen to“Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind,” and debate where to get brunch for the next 25 minutes. They were the J.I.D. to Dungen’s Kendrick Lamar, an endearing apprenticeship talent who whittled the frenetic eccentricity from the original for something more readily digestible. Except there are as many people in the world who speak Swedish as there are living in L.A. County. By singing in their native language, Dungen was destined to become a roadside plaque commemorating their genius. And Tame Impala received a newly built and empty 5-lane freeway all to themselves.
Their sophomore album Lonerism found them hiring Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, leaning more heavily on synthesizers and writing songs with titles like “Apocalypse Dreams,” which sounds like it was composed after eating a pair of Kush punch edibles and getting briefly lost on a hike at Joshua Tree. It’s a totally solid record from a totally solid band who are probably the only modern outfit that your dad would like. The riposte for another unreadable “Is Rock is Dead?” think-piece. A fat-free Cream.
From then on, things somehow managed to get totally bizarre and laserium boring. Tame Impala were the only new guitar rock band with a cool kid pedigree, that major label executives could also enjoy, understand and easily monetize. They signed to Interscope, refined their sound to arena rock mood music, and penned stuff like “Let It Happen,” “The Moment” and “The Less I Know The Better,” which had the faintest veneer of irony to let people know that yes, they had no clue how to navigate life, but the secret might be in chilling out. Which isn’t an incorrect point, but rather the most basic and rough. It’s music for day-trippers and Eat Pray Love seekers, who want to take ayahuasca for the rumored revelations but aren’t really down with that puking thing. So basically, A$AP Rocky, who conscripted them for a song called “Sundress,” which was co-produced by Danger Mouse because how could it not be.
Kevin Parker seems like an affable, thoughtful and kind person who is obviously musically gifted. But the machine that the band bought into has swept them into the largest stage in America at prime-time, where the implication is that you need a visionary statement, or at least a few new ideas, or barring that, a modicum of showmanship and imagination to mask the fact that they exhibit the charisma of the comatose.