Review Summary: Sounds like a million bucks. Feels like a three-dollar bill.
Give Kevin Parker this: give the man a major label budget and he will present you with a major label sound. Currents
sounds like a million bucks. As compressed as some of the instruments can get here, it always sounds like everything is in its right place, buffed to a chromatic sheen and arranged just so. Those drums may not be to everyone’s taste, but the way they rustle around in the pocket before thundering forward is impeccable production design. Opener “Let It Happen” is arguably one of Parker’s best songs, an epic of scope that is a suitable landmark for how far Parker has come in just three albums of increasing vision. The fact that his trademark guitar only shows up in force once – a buzzsaw of a section, fair enough – and yet “Let It Happen” remains engrossing throughout is a testament to a singular songwriting ability. When “Let It Happen” devolves into a head fake of a record loop before coming out again into its synth motif, it’s Parker’s equivalent of a between the legs dunk. He’s at the top of his game.
Why, then, does so much of Currents
feel like so many empty calories? I can’t say I particularly miss the guitar. Parker has proved himself an expert at so many things by now that his relative neglect of the instrument reveals unforeseen strengths. The celestial electro balladry in the swooning “Yes I’m Changing” and a new apparent mistress in the voluminous bass swells of “The Moment,” a song that has as heady a chorus as anything on Lonerism
, are highlights. When the guitar shows up at the forefront, like it does in that little aside in “Let It Happen” or the funky “The Less I Know The Better,” you appreciate it more; not so much for Parker’s powerfully rhythmic playing, but for how it complements the rich tapestry Parker adorns everything else in. It’s reductive and doesn’t help really anyone by saying the hooks just aren’t there on the level they used to be, but it’s telling that I searched the rest of Currents
in vain for anything as immediate as the crashing waterfall of multitracked vocals on the chorus to “The Moment.”
“Yes I’m Changing” is a lovely tune, and in its clarity (the laconic delivery of “they say people never change but that’s bullsh
it” is perfect) Parker finds his best expression for the record’s transparent themes of nostalgia, growing forward, and growing apart. Other tracks play with the same concepts but seem to get by on Parker’s studio ingenuity more than anything else. When he coats a steadfast kiss-off with a glittery major-key synth on “Eventually,” it’s an expensive way of doing what every guy has done, at one point or another: tried to make themselves not the asshole. In that respect, it’s slow, shuffling pace almost seems like a cruel joke in contrast to the painfully earnest “Yes I’m Changing.” That’s still better than the obtuse single “’Cause I’m A Man,” which almost seems like Parker winking at everyone who ever accused him of jacking his forebears’ style with a hilariously stereotypical lyric. That it chooses to double down on the hypnotic, druggy tempo only puts the focus on Parker’s posturing and a song that has plenty going on but nothing really propelling it forward. I did really appreciate the falsetto gasps though.
At other points, Parker even gets lost in his own usually bulletproof production. “Past Life” is an absolutely absurd spoken word and pitched-down narrative of Parker picking up his dry cleaning and reminiscing about an old fling along to a soundtrack that sounds like M83 on muscle relaxers. “Disciples” is a promising late ‘70s keyboard ditty that fades away before it can really get going, unlike “Nangs” and “Gossip,” little bits of underdeveloped texture that nevertheless serve a crucial connective role here. Closer “New Person, Same Mistakes,” meanwhile, is the mirror image to “Let It Happen,” a multi-suite song that revolves around a distinctive motif – in this case, a titanic bass line. Where “Let It Happen” tied its disparate parts into a coherent whole, “New Person” tends to shift gears without much rhyme or reason, reverb for the sake of reverb. Layers and layers of sound pile on top of one another, obscuring any message, any meaning, except for the decadent beauty of gorging yourself to the brim. It’s a song in search of a lesson that any obsessive has learned at one point in their lives: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.