Tame Impala, The Slow Rush

Given anticipation for new Tame Impala, Cuzomano, Easy C and a Disciple chose to offer differing perspectives on Kevin Parker’s latest effort in this, slightly tweaked record review format.

Cuzomano

“It’s groovy in the awkward, Austin Powers sense of the word.”

I wanted to like this album. I really did. Despite the rather disagreeable strategy to release roughly a third of the album as singles in the build-up to its release (why not opt for a The Next Day-esque ‘drop’ to surprise people and reduce pre-judgement), I held my tongue and waited to consider The Slow Rush as a whole. 

When Currents came out, I felt that it was nowhere near Lonerism’s might, and yet there I was, listening to it every day, steadily being sucked deeper and deeper into Parker’s artistic vision. Around two weeks later, I realised I didn’t just like Currents, I loved it. It became an album that defined an entire chapter of my life (as for so many others). 

Unfortunately, this cannot be said for The Slow Rush. Despite giving it the same, concerted effort; to learn its ins-and-outs (sonically, there’s a lot to unpack); to listen to Parker’s lyrics and allow the whole thing to take me over… it simply has not.

I see no point in reviewing the tracks released in the run-up to the album (although note that Borderline was reworked to sound a little bit more bombastic), and please forgive me for painting in broad strokes, but such are my core grievances with this release.

Above all, it “sounds” the same. Now, that might be exactly what Tame Impala fans want – indeed, I’m not bored by the Tame Impala sound per se, but it’s that it sounds like low-key Tame Impala. I get it, I get it – that’s the whole point of the album; it’s called “The Slow Rush” after all, so maybe it’s going to be a slower burn… but the production this time sounds flat, and tracks are repetitive in their beat and construction. There’s relatively little innovation here. Couple that with Parker’s self-professed desire to be more like Max Martin and his work in and around Hip-Hop, and you have a real disconnect here between what Kevin Parker professes to want to be and what he has released. There’s nothing remotely close to Max Martin-levels of pop in this record, irrespective of what you think of Martin. In general, I can’t help but shake the feeling that the entire album circles around an incredibly similar groove that Parker was feeling; there’s always a similar underlying beat, decorated with conga drums as if to underline the point, and I don’t think it works as a whole; it becomes dull – it doesn’t grab your attention. It’s groovy in the awkward, Austin Powers sense of the word. It’s likeable, but it’s not deep and, at times, songs can sound a little cheesy. A gigantic “meh,” as it were.

I understand that this is absurdly reductive, but when an album takes five years to create, and an artist publicly expresses anxiety over their own obsession with tinkering, then I feel you should call it out if it doesn’t stick the landing, and I don’t think it does. Most other reviews are full of praise, but notably subdued in eulogising the record itself, as they had done with Parker’s previous efforts. Instead, they focus on Parker’s story and what went on around the album, and I think that’s telling. God forbid you call it a bad album.

And it’s not a bad album, it’s just a very mediocre one. Parker is likely to pull many more rabbits out the hat over his lifetime as he is an immensely talented artist whom I both admire and respect. You can call me a fan. So perhaps this perspective is one of a frustrated fan, but this album does very little for me as a whole in comparison to his other work. In fact, I found myself delving deeper into Tame Impala’s very earliest releases and being more satisfied.

In an era where new acts like Black Midi, Caroline Rose and others are capable of inventing (or re-inventing, in Rose’s case) new sonic personalities, it is a shame to hear such a lack of evolution from such a titanic contemporary artist. Call me bad vibes, but there was more interesting music to listen to in 2019 and there is already more interesting music to listen to in 2020 (more on that soon) than this record.

Easy C

“A good album … undermined through silly marketing.”

One aspect Kevin Parker got spot on with the latest output from was its name. The Slow Rush is precisely that; slow and disjointed at the beginning, with its coherence and enjoyment eventually arriving in the second half. Mind you, a quarter of the album had already been annoyingly drip-fed, no doubt in part due to the constant desire for engagement and relevance amongst an increasingly attention-deficit audience. 

The first three tracks of Parker’s latest installment are completely forgettable. Thanks to this wonderful idea of giving us a quarter of the album already, Borderline was about as impactful as a fart in the wind – despite it being a good track. In fact, the drip-feed strategy has a profound impact on the perception of the album. The Slow Rush is a good album that has been undermined through silly marketing. In any case, the “rush” truly begins to murmur during Posthumous Forgiveness and crescendoes at On Track

On the one hand, Parker has used the last five years to painstakingly craft a new approach to his project that has previously brought Psychedelic to the fore again. Breathe Deeper has piano riffs more commonly associated with Elton John. The slower, more sensitive side to Tame Impala is very much welcomed, and this is no surprise given the personal lyricism of Parker on show. On the other hand, there is a reluctance from him to fully relinquish the sound that has given him and Tame Impala such global recognition. But why would he? There are artists who have a definitive sound that is universally loved yet undeniably generic. Then there are the more scarce Kevin Parkers, who equally have a universally loved sound, but are entirely unique and pioneering.

The Result? Despite half a decade and Parker’s notoriety for detail, The Slow Rush never quite lands the knockout blow we traditionally associate with Tame Impala’s previous works. That is not to say it is a bad album, though. It is a good album that has been somewhat undone by teasing too much. No one likes being teased too much. Lastly, Parker’s microscopic lens results in a loss of what is ultimately under the lens in the first place. 

The Disciple

“…for every Dark Side of the Moon, there’s a Meddle.”

Upon first listen, a friend of mine said “it really lacks balls” and, troubling sexism aside, I agreed with the sentiment. Several listens later, I still agree – not because “it’s a bit boring,” as he so eloquently put it, rather because it hasn’t fully broken from their earlier work. 

As far as album names go, The Slow Rush is exceedingly appropriate; it’s a grower, not a shower. Above all, though, it feels like a transition album. Halfway between the pulsatingly obtuse Currents and a sound not yet perfected, The Slow Rush neither drags Tame Impala kicking and screaming, nor goes gently into that good night towards a kind of psychedelic, disco-funk sound for which Kevin Parker is still ironing out the kinks. Punctuated by pockets of excellence, it takes a few listens to fully appreciate but it isn’t as immediately gripping as previous works, and it lacks coherence and focus. Indeed, while On Track is a reverent yet grunge-filled ballad, reminiscent of Yes I’m Changing, Glimmer is poles apart, a positively optimistic nod to the pop future of their sound.

The album is littered with such nuance but, as with all great bands, this is only natural: for every Dark Side of the Moon, there’s a Meddle. Tame Impala have already achieved greatness and have nothing left to prove. And yet, perhaps, the best is yet to come – but it’s going to be a slow rush to the finish line.

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