The Slow Rush is a show of Tame Impala adapting to unfathomable success.
Even in the contemporary age of blurred lines between indie and mainstream and intense cross-pollination, few artists’ crossover exposure has been more surprising than Kevin Parker’s. In less than half a decade, Parker’s Tame Impala project has gone from throwback psychedelic rock to the megalithic pop of Currents, which warped all of the artist’s bombastic production into a remarkable collection of relatable songs of lovelorn dejection and desperate hope. More than an artistic breakthrough, Tame Impala’s third LP resulted in a shocking level of popularity for a modern artist even nominally tied to rock, resulting in collaborations with the likes of Lady Gaga and Kanye West. Strange as it may be from the outside, this appeared to be Parker’s master plan all along; recently, he revealed his desire to be seen not as a rock god but a Max Martin, the Swedish songwriter to the stars whose writing credits have dominated pop charts for a decade.
The Slow Rush, arriving after five years of Tame Impala navigating an ever-wider sphere of influence, is clearly a move to solidify this musical direction. The album encompasses many reference points—funk, ‘80s jazz fusion, Phil Spector pop—but rock is present only in a sublimated, suggestive form. The more groove-centric sound of Currents is front and center, while Parker’s unimpeachable genius for tracking thick walls of sound finds him composing directly for the arenas and festivals he now plays as a matter of course. Even sounds that might a decade earlier have been intimately trippy (the heavy stereo panning and vocoder vocals that roll out opener “One More Year”) are massively painted here, and the epic stomp of tracks like “Borderline,” with its rich bassline, hone the big-venue pop into which Currents had to grow in a live setting.
Lyrically, the album wades in similar waters as its predecessor. For all of the overwhelming atmosphere of Parker’s production, his airy falsetto has always revealed a vulnerability that cuts through his layers of buoyant warmth. “Posthumous Forgiveness” tackles Parker’s contentious relationship with his late father and the bitterness of attempting to make amends with an estranged loved one after their death. The artist airs old grievances on lines like “To save all of us, you told us both to trust/ But now I know you only saved yourself,” but he also reflects on how much he’d like to be able to share with his dad now, from celebrity encounters like meeting Mick Jagger to simple updates about his personal life. “And I know you had demons/ I got some of my own,” Parker offers as benediction, before adding, “I think you passed them along.” “It Might Be Time” takes the romantic angst that informed Currents and filters it through a more sober rumination on time’s passage. “It might be time to face it/ It ain’t as fun as it used to be, no,” Parker sings, wondering how much of his alienation might be self-inflicted.
But where Currents was unified in its caustic, ultimately self-critical songs about fading, unrequited and hopeful love, The Slow Rush lacks the same sharp focus to pull its ruminations on fame and loss into a larger statement. It doesn’t help that for all the wide-ranging genre interests that are incorporated into the album, the record’s individual tracks lack the distinctive hooks that made so many of the songs on Currents instantly memorable. “Instant Destiny,” with its prog-pop swell of synths, may not sound much like the brittle, guitar-driven “Tomorrow’s Dust” in instrumentation, but they share a lethargic pace and vague feeling of regret that never captures either the compelling hook or the specific anguish of something like “The Less I Know the Better.”
Still, if The Slow Rush is a show of Tame Impala adapting to unfathomable success, it certainly manages to make music ready to be played to audiences measured in the tens of thousands. Early fans may balk at the near-total loss of guitar in Parker’s music, but in truth, he was never among the more interesting figures of psych’s massive 2010s resurgence in the mainstream and underground. He is far better as a singer-songwriter who masks confessionals under sheets of sound. Yet in chasing the standard-bearer of modern pop, Parker has perhaps succeeded too well; his fourth LP epitomizes the contemporary pop trend of myriad styles combining into an over-homogenized soup, sensually pleasing but rarely challenging. Listening to The Slow Rush is never unpleasant, but only rarely does a stray lyric or change-up grab attention in the way that Tame Impala’s previous work so frequently commanded.