Reflecting on ‘Lonerism’, Tame Impala’s crowning glory

While its predecessor crashed forth as a brilliant wash of psychedelia and powering riff rock, Lonerism was an explosion of emotion and escapist pop.

With each new Tame Impala album comes a leap forward. 2010’s Innerspeaker reinvented a string of viral Myspace singles and two home-recorded EPs into a powerful statement of identity.

While Innerspeaker was a commanding performance, Lonerism experimented, indulged and rewrote the rules. Riding high on momentum and critical acclaim from his head spinning debut, Kevin Parker returned confident, inspired and disarmingly earnest.

kevin parker tame impala
Photo: Matt Sav

Lonerism pushed out from expectation, soon to become one of the definitive albums of 2012.

The record still exemplifies Parker’s trademark perfectionism and technical finesse. With a sense of introspective focus radiating in every direction, it came on brighter and more direct than ever before.

Anchored in detachment and bedroom soliloquy, its dejected narrative flows around Parker’s own emotional eddies. Lonerism came cloaked in the relatable melancholy of tortured outsider youth. More than simply the product of temporary artistic seclusion, the record draws upon a streak of loneliness, remoteness and intense isolation that runs across a lifetime.

As a child, Parker crossed cultural barriers when his Zimbabwean parents relocated from South Africa to Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. At age four, his parents would separate. Throughout his childhood he would remain with his mother, integrating into a stepfamily while his brother would move in with his father.

No doubt there’s also a wellspring of anxiety springing from a tangled stoner headspace, Kev’s flirtations with weed having kicked off at age 11. Lonerism’s isolation isn’t deliberately invoked, it’s a condition of life.

Yet as Parker himself has pointed out, terminal introversion is something he’s striven to overcome. This adds another dimension, but such desire to connect is paradoxically set against moments which embrace and even celebrate this solitude. Like any great musical work, Lonerism deconstructs its subject matter in all its complexities and shades.

While Parker’s airy vocals carry a narrative of insularity and owl-like observation, they also document his relationship with French artist Melody Prochet. This is hinted at in Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Can Control, but arguably these feelings of love, euphoria and confusion seep outward to colour the general thematic.

These personal corners of Kevin’s life are something the artist has remained relatively tight-lipped about, yet circumstances might speak for themselves. His relationship quickly disintegrated following the album’s release.

The long-player opens with the mantric chant of Gotta Be Above It, ringing out as if the artist is trying to find the confidence to take his music onstage. But at other moments there are bursts of exuberance, bravado, swaggering confidence and sonic extravagance. As Parker professes above the walloping ‘70s chug of Elephant, he’s pulling the mirrors off his Cadillac without so much of a backward glance.

Why Won’t They Talk To Me, Feels Like We Only Go Backwards, Keep On Lying and the bare bombast of Elephant alongside shimmering climax She Just Won’t Believe Me sit at the album’s heart. Parker’s distant and soulful vocals scale his and the listener’s shared emotional peaks. Around this emotive core the record flashes and dissolves, veering into moments of abstraction and spontaneity. The hypnotic groove of Jay Watson co-write Apocalypse Dreams and the mind-altered piano fills of coda Sun’s Coming Up stand out as gleaming examples.

Lonerism is more than a processed anachronism of prog and ‘60s rock, it cuts forward into modern music, fully embracing the possibilities of digital production and sound manipulation. Parker is a multi-instrumentalist, but also possesses the instincts of a producer.

For those who contest the presence of modernity, look no further than the low-end boom of a propulsive, percussive edge hinting closer to R&B than classic rock, or the impossible stacks of vocals and vintage synths.

Lonerism strode fearlessly outside of indie cannon and into a world of pop. The stratospheric ascent of follow-up Currents reaffirmed that Lonerism was no fluke, while continuing the narrative of a lonely introvert coming to embrace the outside world. These 2012 recordings grounded an expectation that with each manic musical rush of lysergic pop comes a journey that will not only redefine modern notions of psychedelia, but also strike further toward the centre of pop music.

Setting a pace from which the group is yet to slacken, Lonerism saw Tame Impala glide unpredictably away from what came before. In short, it’s a landmark album.

While you’re here, check out our Why It Mattered video on the 2015 follow-up to Lonerism, Currents below: