A retrospective on Kevin Parker's modern psych opus.
In retrospect, 2010 was a landmark year for the state of contemporary music. Keynote releases from Arcade Fire, The National, Gorillaz and LCD Soundsystem were indicative of indie’s dominance in the early parts of the decade, while acclaimed albums from Kanye West, Drake, Janelle Monae and Vampire Weekend helped set the tone for what was yet to come.
Perhaps something nobody predicted, however, was the rampant success of the debut album from Perth’s own Tame Impala.
Released ten years ago this week, Innerspeaker garnered near-universal acclaim from fans and critics alike, with reviewers heralding Kevin Parker’s artistic vision and penchant for swirling, psychedelic sounds that breathed new life into the paisley sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Tame Impala’s debut, today we’re revisiting Innerspeaker with a retrospective critical lens, analysing the impact it had on musicians at home as well as what it meant for the greater industry abroad.
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Jam-packed with melodic basslines, driving backbeats and clever studio trickery to create immersive textures, Innerspeaker is by all means a textbook example of what to expect from a Tame Impala album.
However, what probably assisted so much with its immediate success is that it’s also the closest that Parker has ever come to creating a guitar record – one that Aussies took to straight off the hotplate.
Recorded in the era before Kevin Parker established an ongoing love affair with synths and embraced his inner Max Martin, Innerspeaker is primarily built upon a guitar-based template, opting for lucid guitar riffs and a mighty pedalboard full of vintage fuzz, phaser and delay effects.
Tracks like ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ and ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’ took the ideas put forth on Tame Impala’ debut EP and sent them skyward, while ‘The Bold Arrow Of Time’ and ‘Runaway Cities Houses Clouds’ put a lively twist on the sounds of Cream and Pink Floyd and spat them back out to brand new listeners.
Every track on Innerspeaker features a massive guitar moment, and even when they were replicating the sound of the synthesisers that would soon take their place them on subsequent records, they were often the highlight of each song, meticulously highlighted by Dave Friddman’s studio smarts in the mixing process.
And while none of the playing on the record is particularly flashy, it was nonetheless unique: the riffs were hummable, the guitar solos short and snappy, the chords awash with colour. It all sounded so organic and real, and it resonated with audiences as a result.
Maker of Moods
One of Innerspeaker’s more unique aspects is how it sounds like an album made to capitalise on streaming services, despite being released in an era dominated by CD sales and iTunes downloads. It was perfect for casual listening and wonderful when paired with headphones, yet punters still flocked to see Tame Impala at festivals in their droves.
Parker’s cohesive vision and tendencies as a perfectionist resulted in Innerspeaker being as potent and interconnected as an album could be, particularly in an age where ringtones were still a key source of income for the music industry.
In today’s age of curated mood playlists and music designed to tank Spotify algorithms, Innerspeaker sounds just as fresh as it did back in 2010 because of the ‘vibe’ it set.
Songs like ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind’ and ‘I Don’t Really Mind’ were as much moody, euphoric jams as they were thought-out and orchestrated songs, and helped convey the concept of Innerspeaker as an experience, not just an album – a strength that Parker would only hone further as he became more confident in his production and merging of diverse influences.
Parker’s skill at setting the mood would see him find early fans in US anti-genre trailblazers like Frank Ocean, Travis Scott and Tyler The Creator, who took cues from the Western Australian’s approach to curating sounds for their own pivotal projects throughout the decade to come.
Closer to home, however, it signalled the start of a new movement that would go on to dominate the course of Australian rock for the next decade.
I’m not going to go all out and say that Tame Impala was the nexus for every group influenced by psychedelic rock that sprung up in their wake – although there’s certainly sufficient evidence to suggest that might be the case.
Bands like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Beaches and Pond were already on the map when Innerspeaker was released, and subsequent Antipodean projects indebted to psychedelic influences such as The Babe Rainbow, Orb, Jonti and Jagwar Ma definitely put their own spin on things.
However, it certainly suggested that there might be something big lurking around the corner – by all means, it was a dawning of a new era.
For Australia, Innerspeaker was widely celebrated as a breath of fresh air. After enduring a decade of mop-top garage, cringey pastiches of arena rock and way too many indie bands that felt like a budget version of Bloc Party, Innerspeaker offered something different without pushing the pencil too far into obscurity.
It was perfect for headphones and loudspeakers alike, a record made for introverts that’d prefer to skip out on the boozy leather-clad rock of the preceding decade to stay at home, get stoned and play with pedals.
This wasn’t a response isolated to Australia, however. Overseas artists like Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Mac DeMarco (and, to a lesser extent, Blood Orange and King Krule) would experience a similar response when releasing their own self-produced efforts in the wake of Innerspeaker.
Perhaps unintentionally, this would also see Tame Impala become quickly associated with the ‘soft-boy’ endemic that’d also sweep the world a little later on, which while being slightly disingenuous, also makes for some hilarious meme potential. It is what it is.
Kevin Parker, Bedroom Studio Superstar
The release of Innerspeaker also coincided with a time that saw major advancements in the accessibility of home recording equipment and the rise of the obsessive bedroom producer.
Even though Parker laboriously recorded the majority of his debut by himself with a standalone digital recorder (his live bandmates Jay Watson and Dominic Simper made minor contributions to the second half of the album), no one believed that Tame Impala was a solo project – not just because all the press shots were of an entire band, but because at the time, it just didn’t seem possible to sound so good as a singular force.
It wouldn’t be long until DAW-fever would sweep the nation and make self-producing a record as easy as it sounded, with many artists looking to figures like Parker as a poster child for their movement.
While the scale of Parker’s current studio has since eclipsed of what most now consider as a home studio, the ethos remains the same. Tame Impala is, and will continue to be, a project driven by sheer sonic indulgence: one person pushing the parameters to deliver an uncompromising encapsulation of the past, present and future.
For many local listeners, this was the aspect of Innerspeaker that sealed the deal the most. The fact that an Australian artist – based in one of the most isolated cities in the world, nonetheless – could make a record almost entirely by themselves and have so much impact on the world stage certainly makes for one of the best Australian success stories in recent years.
Ten years ago, it was mind-boggling to think that a gangly young musician pressing the record button in the bedroom of a Fremantle sharehouse could go on to headline Coachella, notch billions of streams and work on albums for the likes of Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson and The Weeknd.
After Innerspeaker, nothing seemed impossible anymore.
Revisit Innerspeaker with Tame Impala’s newly-released 10th Anniversary Edition today.