In 2010, Tame Impala – the brainchild of Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker –emerged into the spotlight with the release of Innerspeaker. Parker’s debut album made him a sought-after act, garnering the young artist wide critical acclaim and setting him up for a year of touring in Australia, North America, and Europe. Parker had a lot riding on his follow-up, and fans and critics eagerly awaited his next work. The result was 2012’s Lonerism.
“It’s like Britney Spears singing with The Flaming Lips”
Parker began working on new material from his home studio in Perth almost immediately after the release of Innerspeaker, enjoying the flexibility and time to indulge in sonic exploration. A confident sophomore effort, Lonerism is a grand experiment in psychedelic pop, paired with eloquent, introspective lyricism. Deviating from the guitar-driven material of his earlier work, Parker utilized luscious, layered synths, samples, and ambient sounds recorded on a dictaphone. In a 2012 feature with Under The Radar, Parker described Lonerism as, “A combination of nice sugary pop crossed with really f__ked-up, explosive, cosmic music. It’s like Britney Spears singing with The Flaming Lips.”
As the title suggests, Lonerism revolves around themes of isolation and introversion, which makes sense given Parker’s sudden rise to indie rock stardom, followed by non-stop touring. The artist also spent nearly two years recording the album, primarily alone, with the exception of two tracks, “Apocalypse Dreams” and “Elephant,” which bandmate Jay Watson co-wrote. In an interview with Australian newspaper Whitsunday Times, Parker recalled, “We were touring so much and doing all these gigs and going to places with people. It reminded me of when I was a kid trying to be social and trying to be a people person and realizing that I’m not.”
Lonerism opens with an ASMR fetishist’s dream: Parker whispering “Gotta be above it” on a loop, followed by roughly-hewn drum beats (which get increasingly faster and twisted, thanks to digital manipulation). Bursts of dramatic synths build, as Parker offers the listener a peek into his psyche. He sings, “I know that I can’t let them bring me down/And I gotta bide my time as a face in the crowd.” It’s a relatable message, whether it harkens back to the first day of school or brings to mind a performer facing the realities of fame for the first time.
“Are you too terrified to try your best?”
From there, the audience is taken on a bouncy, fuzzed-out voyage with “Endors Toi” and led into the infectious beats of “Apocalypse Dream,” in which Parker asks, “Are you too terrified to try your best?” Parker’s lyrics might be forlorn, but his dreamy, expansive soundscapes are utterly blissed-out, and, at times, joyous. Distorted melodies wash over the listener like a warm, sunny day on songs like “Music To Walk Home By,” “Why Won’t They Talk To Me” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”
Upon its release, on October 5, 2012, Lonerism was embraced both critically and commercially. It was ranked No.1 on several year-end lists and was nominated for Best Alternative Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, as well as winning Album Of The Year at the Rolling Stone Australia awards. The album debuted at No.34 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum in Australia.
Innerspeaker might have made Tame Impala a critical darling, but Lonerism took Parker to the next level. The artist would further develop his sound with 2015’s Currents, moving deeper into the world of synth-pop, and embracing elements of disco and funk. Lonerism is a glorious step in the artistic evolution of Tame Impala and stands as a prime example of what a musician can accomplish, given the freedom and time to explore their creativity.