Album Review: Tame Impala - The Slow Rush

The booklet for The Slow Rush – the latest album from the Australian psych-pop project Tame Impala – consists of the song lyrics scrawled over a calendar from 1992. This is just one of the many ways Kevin Parker’s fourth album as Tame Impala is obsessed with time. The album’s playfully oxymoronic title is another obvious one, but from the opening track One More Year to the closing song One More Hour, The Slow Rush is immersed in time. As an infamous perfectionist, this obsession makes sense; one can imagine those book-ending song titles being said by Parker, labouring over a minute production detail, as his record label begs him to release something. This perfectionism has been a source of frustration for many fans. It’s been over four years since his last album Currents; a frustration Parker seemed to poke fun at with the non-album single Patience, with its opening line “has it really been that long?” However, now that The Slow Rush is actually here, was this perfectionism also a source of success? 

There’s something inherently psychedelic about time, especially when warped and manipulated like the album’s titular antithesis. Parker immediately evokes this on the opening track with his ‘Gregorian robot choir’, a chorus of pitch-shifted voices chanting the title through a disorienting tremolo. However, as the drum beat fades in, it becomes clear that The Slow Rush is no straightforward psychedelic rock album. It’s a disco album. Over the thirteen years that Parker has been making music as Tame Impala, each release has moved further away from the fuzzy psych-rock with which he started his career. 2015’s Currents was the biggest leap, an album drenched in synthesisers and taking as much influence from contemporary R&B as his previous albums had recalled the late 1960s. On The Slow Rush, Parker doubles down on this and then some.

The Slow Rush effectively sees Parker trying to convince alternative hipster millennials that 1970s disco and soft rock is actually really cool.

– Nathan Brooks

The Slow Rush effectively sees Parker trying to convince alternative hipster millennials that 1970s disco and soft rock is actually really cool. How does he do this? By refining the hyper-detailed approach to production that he showcased on Currents. Anybody hoping for a return to the guitar dominated days of InnerSpeaker and Lonerism will be disappointed. Even more so than Currents, the guitar is just one of a multitude of tools Parker employs to construct some of the most elaborate soundscapes ever put to a disco beat. Tomorrow’s Dust is the perfect encapsulation of this approach, the track building and building with all the new instruments and sounds Parker restlessly piles on top of it. Elsewhere, he adds a modern edge to prevent the soft rock from getting too soft. It Might Be Time takes a synth line that’s eerily reminiscent of Supertramp’s The Logical Song and invigorates it with an abrasive bassline and pummelling drum beat. 

For all its intricacy, however, The Slow Rush can’t help but feel more low-key than Currents. It’s certainly not without its standout moments; the new mix of lead single Borderline cranks the bassline up to irresistible effect and One More Hour closes the album with the intensity of an earthquake. But it doesn’t quite reach the same soaring highs as its predecessor. The power ballad inspired On Track, for example, has a lovely melody but it’s nowhere near as sublime an emotional core as Eventually, its obvious Currents counterpart. Despite Parker honing his melodic capabilities to near perfection on Currents, The Slow Rush seems more concerned with the groove and the vibe of the songs, a fact most apparent on tracks like Breathe Deeper and Glimmer. That said, Parker throws the full force of his creative talents behind those grooves and vibes; so long as you don’t compare it to the album that will likely go down as his magnum opus, The Slow Rush is a rich collection of tunes worth dancing to. 

Thematically, The Slow Rush is written from a remarkably different perspective to Currents. Five years ago Parker was in a post-breakup state, reflecting on his newfound loneliness and confronting the need to grow in response. On The Slow Rush, Parker is married and looking towards the future, not indulging in the romantic excitement of it all but grappling with the existential nature of such a commitment to another human being. Whilst Instant Destiny captures the immediate thrill of getting engaged, the songs around it contextualise this emotion within the more complex reality of married life. One More Year attempts to manage the daunting concept of a lifelong relationship by taking it a year at a time and Is It True sees Parker “talkin’ ‘bout devotion” with his wife as he faces up to the fact that he can never know how long their love will endure. 

The Slow Rush succeeds at existentialism without sounding like a pretentious stoner, grounding everything in relatable real-life experiences.

– Nathan Brooks

In other words, Parker’s marriage has stirred his fascination with time. But the songs on The Slow Rush go beyond his wedding and explore time in all its diverse manifestations. Borderline ruminates on the feeling of being on the cusp of dramatic change, a sensation as relevant to our experiences as individuals as it is to the world as a whole in these tumultuous times. Tomorrow’s Dust plays with the relationship between present actions and future regrets with the ethereal statement “in the air of today is tomorrow’s dust” and Posthumous Forgiveness applies this to Parker’s personal life, contrasting the two halves of the song to express the bitterness he had felt towards his late father and his impossible desire for reconciliation. The lyricism isn’t always perfect; Lost in Yesterday, for example, tries to be a balanced critique of nostalgia, but Parker’s desire for a pithy chorus ultimately renders it clumsy. But for the most part The Slow Rush succeeds at existentialism without sounding like a pretentious stoner, grounding everything in relatable real-life experiences.

It’s hard to say whether or not Parker’s perfectionism paid off with The Slow Rush. Ultimately, the need to endlessly refine one’s creative output can be as much a hindrance as a benefit. Whilst Fiona Apple’s latest album, which she’s been working on for eight years, has been hailed as a masterpiece, the most recent efforts from U2 have been mercilessly panned despite all the minute tinkering the band do before releasing them. In Parker’s case, one could convincingly argue that his obsessive focus on the details of the production held the songs back from reaching the same heights as his previous work. That said, without that obsessive focus I doubt this album would sound and feel as spectacular as it does. Ultimately, it’s an incredibly challenging balance. If Parker hasn’t absolutely nailed it with The Slow Rush, he’s still made another excellent album, blending existential musings and infectious beats with exquisite production.