If you take the ‘–ism’ suffix in the title to connote the “action, process or result” of something, you could logically surmise that Tame Impala’s second album ‘Lonerism’ is some sort of chronicle of the phenomenon of loneliness. Whether it’s how someone acts when subjected to neglect or rejection or detailing the experiences that get one to that point, frontman, Kevin Parker, has laid it all bare. He actually sounds like the loneliest man in the world. But there are two things that make ‘Lonerism’ so incredible. The first is how crushing he makes his loneliness sound and feel and the second is how well he balances lyrical simplicity with an exceptional ability to express these feelings in the music itself.
The world where ‘Lonerism’ unfolds is not the same as ours here on Earth. It is a barren desert of a planet, far far away and Parker is both its creator and destroyer. So how did he get there? Stomping album opener ‘Be Above It’ suggests that he may have flown himself there. The songs diffuse synths reverberate like huge plumes of smoke under a rocket while Parker repeats the “gotta be above it” in an effort to convince himself not to lose his mind until he’s in the vacuum of space. You get the feeling he wants to isolate himself as far away as possible so he can explode without causing any human calamity. It’s a track befitting of an album that explodes in the sky like a breathtaking psychedelic supernova. And we’re merely watching on in awe, wondering if any of the debris will hit our own planet.
There are times when Parker’s lonely desperation manifests itself as luminescent cosmic signals hurtling across the universe in order to find any signs of life. ‘Why Won’t They Talk To Me?’ and ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ are piano-driven pleas for reprieve, that spiral slowly away into space looking for a life form to absorb them. Parker’s voice is like a very sad mythological creature; never sounding whiny because it’s purity inspires genuine sympathy from the listener. Album closer, ‘Sun’s Coming Up’ while both haunting and heartbreaking, ends the album with a sliver of hope. As the spacey waltz dances off into the distance, Parker is all alone, left to watch a wah-wah pedal sunrise. But it’s like a sunrise of his own creation, designed either to give himself the hope that comes with a new day or maybe just to keep him company in his eternal loneliness. It’s a breathtaking finish to the album, which leaves you adrift in the continuum of time.
Before we reach that point thought, ‘Lonerism’ features some awe-inspiring moments seemingly caused by the immense frustration of solitude, self-inflicted or otherwise. When it all gets too overwhelming thanks to a crushing feeling of futility, that’s when Parker’s powerful psych-freak outs are true sights to behold. Nothing showcases this more than the show-stopping ‘Apocalypse Dreams’. The hopeful build-up of the verses (“this could be the day that we push through”) corrodes into an overwrought sense of defeat (“everything is changing and there’s nothing that I can do”) in the chorus. But instead of giving up, the frustration reaches fever pitch and the song’s cataclysmic geysers of psychedelic splendour explode in a truly sublime fashion. It is a show of immense power. The way the narrative is expressed in the actual song is nothing short of perfect and this song is a highlight in a young career already full of them. The gradual build up of the droning ‘Endors Toi’ is another example of this tremendous catharsis, and like ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ its horrifying beauty becomes addictive.
However, the most surprising track of ‘Lonerism’ is the most anomalous one in the context of the track listing. With a similar rocky swing to Daddy Cool’s, ‘Eagle Rock’, ‘Elephant’ is a song is about a secretly insecure oaf, told from the perspective of someone who despises him (note: it’s probably about the same sort of idiot that insists on doing the “no pants dance” every time ‘Eagle Rock’ comes on in a pub). What starts off as confident starts to unravel as the ‘swinging dick’ tempo of the chugging guitars start getting befuddled by the delirious synths. It’s as if Parker is playing with a psychedelic voodoo doll. And the most unsettling thing? How Parker manages to sound both so nonchalant and disdainful. It is just awesome because he does this all the while maintaining his Fremantle-slacker charm, making the dissonance between the album’s casualness and raw power even harder to comprehend.
If this completely over the top review hasn’t given it away, ‘Lonerism’ is an absolutely amazing and inspiring record. Its arrival is an exciting time for music in general because it is truly “cosmic” pop. That is, ‘Lonerism’ is capable of being marvelled at by anyone who genuinely loves music that is both emotionally authentic and creatively expressed. Parker’s prodigious talent goes without saying and he is so convincing as the master of his own universe, it’s scary. If “lonerism” is indeed about the process or action of becoming lonely, it may be the perfect title for the album because it’s hard to imagine anything in recent memory that touches upon its greatness. It is that good and it will probably be unmatched for a while. But if you think of the whole universe as your playground, much like it is for Parker on this album, you can probably just create your own damn beauty if you get lonely at the top.
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