Review: Tame Impala's 'The Slow Rush' explores temporal themes

by Jack Hargrove | 2/20/20 12:00am

Over the last decade, Kevin Parker has used his solo project Tame Impala to create incredible anthems of loneliness and isolation. Ever since his 2010 single “Solitude is Bliss,” Parker has pushed himself further and further away from society, using his lyrics to present himself as an outsider looking in. Even the album cover of Tame Impala’s 2012 album “Lonerism” depicts people picnicking on the other side of a fence, just out of reach. During the production of his next album “Currents” in 2015, Parker withdrew even further, working meticulously on each track. And while these songs dealt more with interpersonal relationships than any of his previous works, the lyrics made it clear that Parker felt more alone than ever. 

Now, nearly five years later, Parker has released his fourth album under the Tame Impala moniker, “The Slow Rush.” In the time between album releases, Parker’s life has undergone a significant change: In 2019, he got married. This milestone has manifested itself into the lyrics, which have moved into unfamiliar territory for Tame Impala. On “The Slow Rush,” Parker’s lyrics focus on topics relating to the passage of time, including nostalgia, death and the prospect of spending the rest of his life with one person. Musically, the album combines Tame Impala’s psychedelic roots with fresh takes on pop, soft rock and even disco.

Parker establishes the album’s central lyrical theme right out of the gate with the opening track “One More Year.” Throughout the song, he sings about living life without worrying about the constraints that time puts on everyone. Parker also expresses his apprehension for married life, saying, “I never wanted any other way to spend our lives/I know we promised we’d be doing this ’til we die/And now I fear we might.” Despite his excitement with being married to the love of his life, Parker has yet to come to grips with the fact that the rest of his life is now mapped out for him.

Parker’s anxiety about married life is echoed later in the album’s ninth track “Is It True,” where he questions his ability to love one person forever. In the first verse, he sings, “We started talkin’ ’bout devotion/The kind that goes on eternally/And I tell her I’m in love with her/But how can I know that I’ll always be?” The fear of commitment that Parker expresses feels very personal and this vulnerability helps the listener connect with the lyrics. Sadly, the instrumental in the song is the most forgettable on the album. While the disco bassline itself is enjoyable to listen to, the repetition of the same basic melody over and over makes it feel more suited to a Target commercial than a Tame Impala album.

Different facets of the passage of time are explored from track to track. In the eighth song “Lost in Yesterday,” Parker discusses the effect that nostalgia has on him. After looking back on his days before fame fondly, he asks whether it is healthy to constantly live in the past, especially how more difficult times in his life ended up becoming good memories. In reference to memories, Parker comes to the conclusion that “if they call you, embrace them/If they stall you, erase them.” He again sings about living in the past on the sixth track, “Tomorrow’s Dust.” Here, Parker says, “I was blinded by a memory/Like it’s someone else, like it wasn’t me/And there’s every chance I’ll be learning fast/And the day will come and then it will pass,” referencing how fleeting the past is and the importance of moving on.

In the seventh song, “On Track,” Parker relates the pressure that time can constraints the public’s demand for new music can put on artists. Five years separate “The Slow Rush” from the last Tame Impala album, and this delay stems from Parker’s reputation as a perfectionist and an auteur. In fact, this album was originally supposed to be released in the summer of 2019, referenced in the lyric, “I know it’s unrealistic, over-optimistic/I know I tried before this, I know it’s nearly August.” Despite the delay, Parker still considered himself to be “on track,” as he says in the song’s chorus, as he works at his own pace. It is fitting that “On Track” is by far the slowest song on the album.

The most terrifying effect of time, death, is the focus of the fourth track, “Posthumous Forgiveness,” in which Parker attempts to make sense of his feelings about his late, estranged father. The song is split into two parts, with the first delving into the issues Parker had with his father while he was alive. Parker, it seems, has pent up his anger with his father since he was a child. In the bridge, he sings, “And you could store an ocean in the holes/In any of the explanations that you gave/And while you still had time, you had a chance/But you decided to take all your sorrys to the grave.” However, the second part betrays Parker’s anger and reveals a different side to their relationship. The lyric “I wanna tell you ’bout the time/Wanna tell you ’bout my life/Wanna play you all my songs/Learn the words, sing along” is a heartbreaking insight into the pain Parker feels about no longer having a father. The instrumental also fits perfectly with the lyrics, as the hazy and bass-heavy first section is replaced by a much brighter and upbeat sound in the second half.

Lyrically, “The Slow Rush” is the most cohesive and mature album that Tame Impala has released to date. Sadly, the quality of the music itself is much more variable. The instrumentals sound highly similar from one song to the next, resulting in a bland and homogeneous product. While certain individual tracks stand out above the rest, many others blend together. None of the songs on the album are necessarily bad, but quite a few of them did not need to be on the album, especially with its above average runtime of nearly an hour.

“Instant Destiny” is the most egregious example of filler on the album. The chorus sounds like a generic parody of a Tame Impala melody and the production during the verses is bland and static. For such an eclectic and innovative producer, Parker sounds a lot like any other boring indie rock artist out there on this track.

“Tomorrow’s Dust” is another track that adds little to the musical diversity on the album. The song is a forgettable soft-rock affair that is built around an acoustic arpeggiated guitar riff reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” The repeated guitar line gets boring quickly, and the vocal melody in the chorus is woefully uninspired. This track is more muzak than anything else and may ultimately find a home playing in elevators. The same can be said for the instrumental in “Is It True,” which consists of a static bassline repeated again and again without much else.

The penultimate track, “Glimmer,” may be the most pointless on the album. At just over two minutes in length, “Glimmer” is little more than a forgettable interlude. While interludes certainly can benefit an album, its placement right near the end of the album is a poor choice. There is little point in hearing an interlude when the album is almost over. The issue is compounded by the fact that the track provides the album with almost no musical value, as the synths and guitar lines on the track are repetitive and insubstantial.

In spite of a few musical missteps, there are still many high points of the album. Lead single “Borderline” provides an easy listening experience, while still having dynamic synth lines and an off-kilter melody. The fifth track, “Breathe Deeper,” is bright and upbeat, with an infectious melody that will get stuck in any listener’s head. The ballad “On Track” may be slow, but the heavy synths and drum beat make it as exciting as any Tame Impala song. “Posthumous Forgiveness” is perfectly split into two parts, with the hazy and dystopian sound of the first instrumental contrasting with the radiant drum beat and melody of the second part. “Lost in Yesterday” would fit well on the last Tame Impala album, “Currents,” with its bouncy beat and buoyant bassline.

“The Slow Rush” is, at its core, an album with stellar standout tracks that are ultimately held back by boring filler. The album is also plagued by a lack of experimentation, a quality that has been ubiquitous on every other Tame Impala album. When compared to “Currents” or “Lonerism,” there are similar high points, but “The Slow Rush” takes far fewer risks and has much less variety. After a five-year wait, Tame Impala does not give longtime listeners anything that they haven’t already heard.

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