Tame Impala ‘The Slow Rush’ – Review

5 Mar

It’s been five years since Tame Impala released an album but over that time Kevin Parker has been busier than ever, producing, collaborating and working the live circuit. He’s also been flirting with mainstream pop, working with Kanye, Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Mark Ronson and Rihanna in the time since ‘Currents’ was released. That goes some way to explaining how Tame Impala’s popularity has increased exponentially in their time away from the spotlight; how a modest track like ‘The Less I Know the Better’ could rack up hundred of millions of plays on Spotify or how they could be asked to headline Coachella and Glastonbury without a record to promote. But despite this newfound popularity, ‘The Slow Rush’ is no more or less commercially driven than any of their other records. Although the high-res sound sparkles a little more, the hooks are actually buried a little deeper. Songs are happy to meander and go off the beaten track. The singles that have been taken from it – ‘Borderline’ ‘It Might be Time’ and ‘Lost in Yesterday’ – were probably chosen by virtue of the fact they are relatively short and accessible in comparison to the rest of the album (but certainly not in comparison to the rest of the charts). In fact ‘The Slow Rush’ is as complex, ambitious and widescreen as any album Kevin Parker has recorded.

Unfortunately, It is also his least rewarding. Unspooling gradually over an hour, ‘The Slow Rush’ settles in to a boring mid-tempo grove early on and Parker never seems interested in subverting or disrupting it. After a while the album becomes quite a monotonous thing; easy to admire from a technical standpoint but very hard to actively enjoy or emotionally connect with. Loosely the album is about the quick passage of time but, ironically, it ends up feeling much longer than it actually is. 

It didn’t have to be like this. At its best, on ‘Is It True’ and ‘One More Year’, the songs are carried by bright rhythms and prominent bass lines. On these songs Parker imagines the eras of Pop music as overlapping voices, in conversation with one another. It’s as if pop history is malleable at Tame Impala’s convenience. In these moments the album, which is perhaps more tightly controlled than that description suggests, speaks with particular relevance to the anoraks and music nerds. These songs are accessible yet vast, employing effects that are almost cinematic in nature and will at various points remind you of Funkadelic, 10cc, Yes, Pink Floyd and Supertramp. It can be an intoxicating mix.

From a certain vantage point, The Slow Rush is a beautiful thing. But like a decorative garden pond rippling softly, it’s ultimately a shallow kind of beauty. Spiritually it feels… not hollow exactly but, yes, shallow. Nothing scans as reached for or deeply felt. Even on ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’ where he’s singing about his late father, Parker sounds detached and unmoved. Perhaps he’s hamstrung by the imposing rhyme scheme or the sense of occasion – after all, he’s never really tackled ambitious subject matter in such a forthright way before. Even his better lyrics, such as the expressive and eternally relatable ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ always felt a little basic. Here he is frequently unable to articulate his thoughts in remotely sophisticated ways. As a vocalist though, he finally sounds like himself and not an eerie, Aussie reincarnation of John Lennon. Perhaps that has something to do with how prominently the vocals have been mixed this time around. He’s a gifted, if modest, singer and you can appreciate that fully here.

 The Slow Rush reminds me of the last Horrors album – both aesthetically pristine, gorgeous sounding records that through a lack of impetus and emotion left absolutely no mark. ‘The Slow Rush’ was laboriously constructed over half a decade and it sounds totally overcooked; as technically proficient as it is emotionally stunted. Perhaps Parker couldn’t see the woods for the trees. It’s got #vibes, lots of #vibes, but a small heart. It will sound great coming through the speakers in a shopping mall or on an expensive hi-fi but it will not invite the same levels of devotion as ‘Innerspeaker’, ‘Lonerism’ or ‘Currents’.

7/10

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