Tame Impala – Lonerism
The cover of Tame Impala‘s new LP Lonerism is a photograph of a pleasant picnic gathering on a lawn. People lounge in the sun, chatting, looking content. But the picture is taken from behind the bars of a gate. Self-inflicted exclusion can be a dangerous thing, and it’s hard not to see the “ism” in Lonerism as a reference to an unhealthy addiction.
Opener “Gotta Be Above It” is a conundrum: a call to arms, a call to self-reliance. “I gotta bide my time as a face in the crowd”, sings Kevin Parker (who sounds more than a little bit like John Lennon). It’s a meditation on transcendentalism, and it breaks and crashes like a neon wave.
Central to the album is the push and pull between autonomy and the need for connection. But Parker resists the temptation to wallow in indecision, instead he writes songs that investigate these very emotional needs from a detached distance. “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” lays this anxiety bare. “I guess I’ll go home, try to be sane, try to pretend this all never happened / Oh, there’s no tree, lonely old me, whoopsee daisy, I thought I was happy…”. Sounds like a line to be sardonically snarled, but Parker sings with such a genuine combination of chagrin and resignation that the song is heartbreaking.
Recently, in a ten year retrospective of Beck’s Sea Change, Stereogum contributor James Jackson Toth wrote that “the complete lack of bitterness or cynicism in the lyrics sets it apart from any other record like it.” In a lot of ways Lonerism comes from that same position of “bummed vulnerability”, an existential dread ferried by continuous disappointment. This is not to say it’s a “sad” album, just one that speaks to universal troubles.
Here’s the thing about the world right now, we’re all a little dissapointed. Kevin Parker is disappointed too, but he uses it like Steinbeck when he wrote Grapes of Wrath. There are no demands here, no instructions on how to feel about things, just some examples to ponder.
These days there’s a fragrant scent of change in the air, but it’s been there for the last decade or so. We’re making progress in a lot of ways, but sometimes it feels like we only go backwards, and sometimes the easier it is to be surrounded, the more we desire to be alone.