Indie

The Best Tame Impala Songs, Ranked

Today, Tame Impala releases its fourth album, The Slow Rush. The LP arrives just a few months shy of the 10th anniversary of the first Tame Impala record, InnnerSpeaker. In the decade between those albums, Parker has enjoyed a trajectory that’s been perpetually on the rise, as his band has grown from an Australian psych-rock cult act to an arena headliner that has attracted millions of new fans thanks to a pivot to synth pop.

In an interview with me that posted last week, Parker seemed almost gleeful at the thought that The Slow Rush might impede his career growth, or at least alienate some of the people who made “The Less I Know The Better” from 2015’s Currents such a monster internet hit. But while the album does nod to the trippiness of earlier TI records like InnerSpeaker and 2012’s Lonerism, it still mostly retains the pop-friendly sound of Currents.

“I don’t expect people to be on the journey with me the whole way. I expect people to get on the train and get off the next station,” Parker said. But for those of us who have been with Tame Impala since the beginning, there are plenty of memorable songs from each of the band’s albums. Here are my top 20 favorites.

20. “Half Full Glass Of Wine” (2008)

Tame Impala’s credentials as a rock band — or lack there of — have been an ongoing narrative in Parker’s career from at least the advent of Currents, and possibly even before that. At this point, given Tame Impala’s full immersion in hooky pop, it might seem like much ado about nothing. How much did they ever really “rock” anyway? This highlight of Tame Impala’s pre-InnerSpeaker 2008 EP suggests the answer once was “quite hard, actually.”

19. “Led Zeppelin” (2012)

Whereas early Tame Impala occasionally resembles a more vibey Queens Of The Stone Age, they openly emulated the defining ’70s arena-rock band on this Lonerism outtake. The song isn’t about Led Zeppelin, it is Led Zeppelin, with a strutting guitar riff that oozes sleaze like juice being squeezed out of a lemon. Parker’s decision to leave this song off of Lonerism — it did appear on the iTunes version of the album — suggests that he was already moving away from this sort of smart-dumb classicism, though Tame Impala did ultimately benefit from the similarly bombastic “Elephant” hitting big on rock radio.

18. “Borderline” (2020)

The first single from The Slow Rush, released almost a full year ago, finds Parker fully embracing his “LA” period. A seductive slice of salsa-tinged yacht rock, “Borderline” is reminiscent of Parker’s collaborations with Mark Ronson on 2015’s Uptown Special, with a lyric that depicts a lost weekend binge on chemical and carnal delights. Parker once sought to blow minds into the far reaches of outer space, but now he’s looking to soothe bodies holed up in some trendy Hollywood hotel.

17. “Lucidity” (2010)

Does anyone remember Dungen? Back when Tame Impala first broke out as psych-rock rookies, one of the bands it was most often compared with was this Swedish group who put out several very good records in the aughts. The Tame Impala song that most sounds like Dungen is “Lucidity,” in which lysergic-laced guitar fuzz bounces off delectable drum fills like excitable hippies frolicking on a grassy knoll. (Parker, who first started with the drums at age 11, was keeping time for fellow Australian rockers Pond at the time.)

16. “Lost In Yesterday” (2020)

An interesting (and convenient) contradiction that has greatly benefitted Tame Impala is Parker’s simultaneous embrace and critique of nostalgia. Tame Impala has appealed to older listeners who hear The Beatles and the Beach Boys in Parker’s grand musical collages, as well as younger fans who recognize the pop, R&B, and electronic influences amid Parker’s highly listenable “mood” music. On “Lost In Yesterday,” Parker again manages to have it both ways, crafting sleekly modern pop that resembles a disco-rock jam from 1979.

15. “The Bold Arrow Of Time” (2010)

No matter Tame Impala’s current reputation as “hip boutique music,” there really was a time when they proudly wore their unfashionable influences on this dirty band t-shirt sleeves. For instance, this smoking deep cut from InnerSpeaker sounds like an homage to Disraeli Gears-era Cream — even back in 2010, that was the opposite of cool.

14. “‘Cause I’m A Man” (2015)

It’s reductive to simply delineate the difference between “old” Tame Impala and “new” Tame Impala as a matter of prominent guitars appearing in the mix. The more crucial distinction boils down to sex — “old” Tame Impala is positively virginal and introverted, whereas “new” Tame Impala is definitely getting laid (while also being slightly less introverted). This pleading love song from Currents is an unlikely tribute to ’60s era Stax soul — while Parker sounds nothing like Otis Redding, he nevertheless is begging his woman to try a little tenderness.

13. “It Is Not Meant To Be” (2010)

As a point of comparison, the opening track from InnerSpeaker is thousands of miles from the Hollywood Hills and the days of pillow talk with models and actresses. Lyrically, it’s practically a Blink-182 song: “She doesn’t like the life that I lead / Doesn’t like sand stuck on her feet / Or sitting around smoking weed.”

12. “Apocalypse Dreams” (2012)

For fans that turned away from Tame Impala after the overtly poppy Currents, Lonerism stands as a kind of last hurrah for Parker’s unabashed psychedelic period. But for Parker himself, the album represents the first shift toward more mass-appeal music. “Even though the sound is totally gnarled and blown out, to me it sounded like Backstreet Boys in some of it, or it sounded like Prince,” he told me earlier this month. You hear that Backstreet/Prince hybrid most clearly on “Apocalypse Dreams,” in which a rollicking piano hook is sent skyward with Parker’s teasing falsetto.

11. “Solitude Is Bliss” (2010)

If there is a mission statement for the shy, agoraphobic, early Tame Impala, it has to be this song, in which Parker coos, “No one else around to look at me / So I can look at my shadow as much as I please.” And yet the music tells a different story, with an insinuating guitar lick (treated to sound like a synth) that makes the bouncy chorus even more infectious.

10. “Mind Mischief” (2012)

This song sounds like “Led Zeppelin” — the uncouth classic-rock banger left off of Lonerism — after being deconstructed and put back together in a slightly different and off-kilter manner. Over a punch-drunk drum pattern and a heavily dosed blues-guitar riff, Parker tries to find his bearings during a woozy trip: “I just don’t know where the hell I belong.”

9. “It Might Be Time” (2020)

The best description of the best song from The Slow Rush — a jittery, stop-start amalgam of ’70s prog, ’80s R&B, and ’90s DJ music — comes from Parker himself: “When I first started putting ‘It Might Be Time’ together, I was like, ‘This is going to be unlistenable.’ Because I didn’t know if it sounded like Supertramp or The Chemical Brothers or Pharrell Williams. I could hear all those kind of things. At the end, I decided it sounds somewhere in between.”

8. “The Less I Know The Better” (2015)

The most popular Tame Impala track based on streaming metrics — it’s closing in on a half-billion streams on Spotify — this is also Parker’s most obvious tribute to one of his biggest musical touchstones, Michael Jackson. (Qunicy Jones could’ve sued over this song’s silky and very Off The Wall-esque bridge.) It’s also reminiscent of Tame Impala’s spiritual forefather in modern indie, MGMT, who brought Tame Impala on the road in 2010 for the duo’s Congratulations tour. While MGMT started making collegiate party music before pivoting to freak-out pop-psych jams, Tame Impala has had the opposite trajectory.

7. “Elephant” (2012)

Parker hasn’t shied away from slagging off one of his most famous songs in the time since it became a breakout from Lonerism. It’s extremely simple, it rips off T. Rex, it has appeared in a million commercials, it’s just not very cool. (“It’s a little bittersweet because, like, that song paid for half my house,” Parker told me sheepishly in 2015.) And yet … have you heard it live? “Elephant” slays live. And that muscular riff only sounds better as Tame Impala plays increasingly larger rooms. Now that they’re headlining arenas, “Elephant” stands tall as one of their most reliable concert vehicles.

6. “Endors Toi” (2012)

The video for this Lonerism stunner is set in an amusement park, and features a frighteningly photogenic couple having gradually less fun while spinning round and round on a ride. That’s actually a pretty good representation of the song, which sounds like a gooey bubblegum pop tune that that is rapidly melting down into something decidedly more sinister. Though, in the end, it might just all be a bad dream. (The French title translates to “go to sleep.”)

5. “Let It Happen” (2015)

When asked recently whether he still makes rock music, Parker insightfully replied, “Rock music is rock music because it makes people think of rock when they listen to it, not because it has guitars, drums, and bass. Because there’s synth-rock, right? Which is just keyboards and drum machines.” He might as well have been describing the epic opener from Currents, which doesn’t have any discernible “rock” instrumentation and yet has the sweep of visionary psychedelic guitar music, taking the listener on a journey from innocence to experience.

4. “The Moment” (2015)

Is this the greatest Tame Impala song never released as a single? Yes. Is it possible that it would have become the most popular Tame Impala track if it had been properly spotlighted? In my opinion, uh-huh. Is there a more likable or joyous piece of music in this band’s catalogue than the final 45 seconds of this tune? Nope!

3. “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” (2015)

I was tempted to put the Rihanna version from Anti- on this list, as it’s basically the same backing track but with Rih’s vocals in place of Parker’s. To be honest, this arguably works better as a Rihanna track — contemplating her “same old mistakes” is infinitely more interesting. (Though it should be noted that Rihanna sounds a lot like Parker on her version — did she think Currents was just a demo by a promising young songwriter?) As it is, this stands as Parker’s most successful attempt at writing a monster-sized pop banger.

2. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” (2012)

The pinnacle of Parker’s retro/futurist aesthetic, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” emulates the sound of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper era and the methodology of the RZA during his early ’90s Wu-Tang prime, with Parker’s Lennon-esque vocals playfully floating above sleepy-sluggish breakbeats. This is what always set Parker apart from the dozens of other young musicians who become obsessed with the past and attempt to slavishly recreate it in the aughts and ’10s — he comes from a post-modern perspective, in which the distance between now and the ’60s flower-power vibes he’s evoking is emphasized, rather than denied, by modern technology. This song doesn’t sound like the past, it hardwires the ache of nostalgia to convey the loneliness of now.

1. “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind” (2010)

At their best, Tame Impala supplies enough heady vibes to fill the largest performance spaces in your town, along with catchy melodies that deliver immediate gratification. This hooky zone-out from InnerSpeaker best epitomizes these modes — it acts as both an invitation to stare blankly at an incredible light show while feeling unspeakably high, and an ear worm that will claim squatter’s rights inside of your cranium for weeks. It scans as rock, but it also borrows from pop and dance music, particularly in the way it peaks and recedes along waves of euphoria (drug-addled or otherwise). While it took Kevin Parker several more years to become a star, the seeds of greatness were already apparent at the outset.

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