Anniverseries: Tame Impala - Innerspeaker

Ten years on to the day, we revisit Tame Impala's debut album - a kaleidoscopic showpiece that paved the way for one of the previous decade's guitar music success stories.
Posted: 21 May 2020 Words: Tom Curtis-Horsfall

Before the universal accolades, before rubbing shoulders with the glitterati of mainstream music appeal, before headlining Coachella, before almost single-handedly revitalising psychedelic music as the contemporary music trend of the previous decade, Tame Impala, or rather Kevin Parker, released Innerspeaker

Roughly a decade or so ago, psychedelic rock was generally consigned to retro-adoring stoners, or the small faction of day-trippers that had tripped the light fandango one too many times. Fast-forward ten years and you can detect elements of psychedelia in a myriad of contemporary music genres, from R&B, chillwave, indie-rock, even in pop music production. 

Not to say this is the handiwork of one man in particular, but Kevin Parker certainly lengthened the scope of traditional guitar music, and it can be traced back to his lauded debut album. 

Some years before Parker realised himself as the writer/producer powerhouse, it’s evident he didn’t quite relish the focus, rather shirking the spotlight. In a recent interview with Rick Rubin, Parker admitted that he “outright lied” saying that pretending to be a band was the only way to get signed, though it was likely more of an indication of his reserved demeanour, the isolated stoner, a future visionary locked inside a cowering teenager. Even the title Innerspeaker smacks of this confined narrative - his trapped inner monologue requiring some form of amplification to be heard. 

His beginnings in Perth saw Parker take to drums before life as a frontman/bandleader, with late 60s/early 70s artists like Cream and Led Zeppelin providing a heavy-handed influential impetus in school band Mink Mussel Creek. It wasn’t until he took the reins under the guise of Tame Impala that his personal vision and adoration for retro psychedelia was refined. Absorbing the role of lone writer/producer, a prototypical example of the bedroom-pop revolution even, resulted in label interest after publishing demos on MySpace. Tame Impala’s subsequent self-titled EP, although rough round the edges, showed huge promise. 

‘Desire Be, Desire Go’, revisited and reworked to fit into Innerspeaker was my first foray into Tame Impala. It hit the sacred sweet spot between delicate, reverb-laden vocals and sturdy rock bar-chord riffs - John Lennon’s high-pitched double-tracked falsetto meets Flaming Lips’ cosmic investigation. Certainly intriguing, undoubtedly trippy.

Hypnotic opener ‘It Was Not Meant To Be’ and the mantra-like chorus ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind’ addressed the well-documented unrequited love between Parker and now-wife Sophie Lawrence, harnessing an emotional longing rather than simply talk about kaleidoscopic experiences catalysed by various substances. Of course, it wouldn’t be a ‘psych’ album had there not been tales of tripping with ‘Lucidity’ and ‘Runaway City Clouds Houses’ providing the prismatic subject matter, the latter of which is widely accepted amongst Parker’s disciples as the album’s opus.

Tame Impala’s continual rise to prominence has obviously coincided with Parker’s self-confidence and ability to accept praise as a producer, yet the intense scrutiny he puts himself under has arguably soared - this wasn’t the case with Innerspeaker, seeing Flaming Lips’ producer Dave Fridmann recruited to mix the record. Given the task of creating clarity amongst the layers of reverb, Fridmann was able to piece together the serene textures that Swedish band Dungen (one of Parker’s foremost influences during this period) were weaving for years prior.

It’s on repeat listens however, when Innerspeaker began to pull at the thread of your own subconscious, your own inabilities to socialise correctly or snatch at certain opportunities due to the concerns over your own perceived inadequacies.

This self-deprecation and continued analysis has come to define Parker’s songwriting oeuvre, the emphasis on his solitude, being someone you’re not (i.e. ‘Solitude Is Bliss’, ‘Alter Ego’, or ‘Expectation’), an internal monologue of what plays out in his own head. Not to say this was a revolutionary style of songwriting by any means, though it no doubt set up their stall early on - music for recluses that equally work on personal and universal levels. 

‘Solitude Is Bliss’, an ode to mental health and self-preservation from the pressures of being social to maximise oneself - something that Parker clearly struggled to be confident with - if anything, made doubt acceptable. It’s fine to worry, to criticise yourself. Despite the shimmering guitars, Revolver-esque vocals, and overall contemporisation of psychedelia, this intimate introspection that centres the most part of Parker’s body of work is arguably the biggest takeaway from his music. 

Pockets of fans still adorn their admiration for Innerspeaker as a badge of honour, the “I liked Tame Impala before Currents” kinda folk. To my own detriment, I’m definitely one of the aforementioned, but the album did established the groundworks for one of the decade’s most inventive and successful artists, one that found the gold tone between psychedelia, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and later even disco. The last ten years have been one hell of a trip, man.

To hear more from Tame Impala, click here.

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