Tame Impala: LONERISM
Posted 11/28/2012 by cal
My first car was a ’77 Camaro, and in the one year I drove it before its frame rusted to shreds I made a lot of memories. But my most legendary car, the one that became part of my identity more than any other, was the ’77 Impala I bought after that. It was indestructible, a beast of a vehicle, and it was my refuge and means of escape for several years. If I had my druthers, it would be summer right now, and I’d be spending a lot of time in that car, wasting ungodly amounts of gasoline driving around on country roads with the windows down with Lonerism cranked. There’s no telling if I could have appreciated it in 1994, what with all my Generation X angst/apathy or whatever we were supposed to be defined by, but in those days there was music expressing my mental state just as well as I ever could if not better, and since then that has rarely happened, but it did this year. Driving around the city with the windows up in the winter in a 2003 Camry just isn’t the same, but it’ll have to do.
I have a couple pages of scattered notes about all the different concrete things I love about this album, stuff like “’Mind Mischief’ is Harrison singing Lennon lyrics over a nasty early-70s McCartney riff” and “’Why Won’t They Talk To Me’ is a panoramically therapeutic mantra for the socially compromised” and “’Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control’ is the most excruciating (um, in a good way) song title ever.” A person could go on and undoubtedly writers have gone on about how this is just a really effing solid rock and roll record, indelible melodies, monstrously rewarding guitar and bass licks, immaculate production. You could say the same things about the first Boston album, but did that thing change anybody’s life? Not like Lonerism. None of the things I love about this album are what make it so overwhelming; it’s more what I can’t resist about it. It’s a compulsion that borders on sickness. For several weeks now I wake up and I don’t feel right until I’ve listened to it. Half the time when I'm listening to other things I’m still thinking about Lonerism or hearing it in my head.
Many words on this album are arranged in ways that mirror my own experience of the past year or so. It’s creepy at times; that’s certainly what finally grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Then there are the ones that describe things from my past that I’m really grateful to be done with. (Then there’s “Elephant”, possibly the most perfect psych-rock song ever made.) It’s easy to twist lyrics so simple to your own purposes; this I realize. But there’s a Lennonesque quality to the universality of these emotions and certainly the way they’re expressed; nobody thought up “Imagine” until John, but it wasn’t conceptually unique or lyrically complex, just plain truth. Kevin Parker has created a flat-out masterpiece of truth for those of us who live inside our heads. He’s legitimizing the pain of social paralysis and painting a vivid picture of not being able to relate to anyone but yourself. He’s laying down blatant treatises on ill-advised relationships, the indestructibility of emotions and the equally devastating effects of resisting or giving in. He has laid bare our mind games and defense mechanisms and channeled them into something approaching actual therapy.
And then there’s the instrumental meat of “Keep On Lying”, which might capture social isolation and paranoia even better than any of his words. It’s the story of all my personal insecurities, wordlessly, inside three minutes. It’s the sound of me going “LISTEN TO THIS! DO YOU HEAR THIS??” and everyone just jabbering on and on as if I’m not there, as if everything that moves me is meaningless. The mocking echoes of merrymakers not laughing at me or with me but completely regardless of me, inadvertently drowning out my reason for being. To be perfectly clear: I’m not this person, or at least very rarely, but this is what the indwelling self resorts to when the effort to be heard above the din is pointless.
And at the risk of sounding crotchety, it doesn’t end there. “Keep On Lying” is Facebook and Twitter and text messages and IM, clogging up the air around our swimming heads, and not just distracting us from real interpersonal connections but infecting the few interactions we do have with a residual conglomeration of all our digital avatars. These are not us, but we can’t even hear our loved ones’ voices without the nagging chatter of their other personas tainting the reality of the here-and-now, live-in-person people. It’s the sound of empty communication, of nobody knowing anybody. It's unlikely that Parker had any of that in mind, but his ruminations on alienation have spread to envelop aspects of my own.
For weeks I was lost in the bleak hopelessness of Lonerism, wishing it would help me get through some shit but ultimately just feeling like a junkie. I’d sit at my desk and think ‘What should I listen to? I should put on something besides Lonerism. I’ve been listening to it too much.’ But nothing that came to mind was remotely appealing. It seemed very literally like the record was a drug and that this must be what it feels like to be foundering in addiction. Then one day I got to the very end of the album for the umpteenth time and it felt different. The outro of “Sun’s Coming Up” evokes, um, a loner, walking along a desolate coastline somewhere, wailing mournfully on his guitar. And then as if by accident, he stumbles onto a major chord, and on this particular day it was like a smile from a passing stranger as a ray of sunlight bursts through clouds. It took so long for me to extract any hope from this music other than the dogged mantra of “Gotta be above it” that opens the album, but this sudden wave of warmth coexisting in the sea of loneliness sounds like the first inkling of being at peace with the prospect of eternal solitude. Since that day my obsession hasn’t diminished, but it has felt less unhealthy.
I can’t tear my own life away from my experience of Lonerism
at all, so I am completely at a loss for objectivity. The best "argument" I can come up with is that for a record to completely invade my headspace this way is by definition a transcendent piece of art, and being that it hasn’t happened to me probably since Kid A
or even prior (and I’ve listened to an awful lot of music in that time), I have to assume it’s a potent and transcendent experience for other people, too. It does make my music-critic job harder, though. The lyrics and melodies are so simple. The whole thing is so patently Beatles-esque it’s crazy. There’s not a single sentiment expressed that hasn’t been done to death in popular music. When I was Kevin Parker’s age, I was a moron; how can I live with myself as a writer knowing that this kid has completely disarmed me? Totally don’t care; an album like this comes along once a decade if we're lucky and I’m just grateful I’m not yet too out of touch with the world to be changed by it.
Chris Gilbert said:
12/27/2012 1:11 PM
Cal, I felt a very similar way. This album really struck a cord with the mercuric weather that is my mind.
I can't stop listening to it either. Top album of 2012 for me.
11/30/2012 7:52 AM
So thrilled that this album has had such an impact on you! Big thanks to Aleks for reminding me to listen to it, because it almost immediately took over my internal top ten list this summer. I can absolutely see how eery some of Lonerism's lyrics must be for you this year. Although I can't say it identifies lyrically with my 2012, there's something altogether fricken' special about this album. Some sort of cumlination of sound and history and simplicity. just magic :)