Album Review: Tame Impala’s “The Slow Rush” — Inspired by the Passage of Time

By Alexander Szeptycki

At its best, The Slow Rush features catchy, energetic, and danceable tracks at the service of lyrical ruminations on dark topics, such as uncertainty and the inevitable passage of time.

Cover art of Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush.

In The Slow Rush, Tame Impala’s first album in over four years, songwriter Kevin Parker tackles a difficult artistic conundrum: How do you follow up an effort that critics have hailed as a masterpiece? How can you live up to exorbitant expectations and anticipation? Currents, the last album from the Australian multi-instrumentalist, proffered a perfect combination of synth-pop instrumentals and melancholy lyrics about loneliness. It is a rare sequel that can match a brilliant predecessor.

The good news is that, for the most part, The Slow Rush delivers by building on what came before, not trying to repeat a formula. Parker continues to mine the atmospheric, synth-laden sounds of Currents while feeling free to bring in new sounds and musical influences. At its best, The Slow Rush pairs catchy, energetic, and danceable tracks with lyrical ruminations on dark topics, focusing on the inevitability of uncertainty and the passage of time. Yes, the album runs a little too long and there are a few tracks here that don’t live up to Parker’s previous work. Overall, The Slow Rush offers a satisfying hymn to the beauties of intractability.

“One More Year,” the opener, is representative of what’s to come. Parker layers soft synth melodies over distorted samples of his own voice. Paired with driving percussion, the track reflects the influence of house music, a new sound for Parker. Later, Parker brings in other genres, including funk and disco, and the results are mostly pleasing. “Lost in Yesterday” is one of the album’s highlights: the tune is built around a thumping, swung bass line tha throbs underneath a slow and spacious synth melody. Both of these tracks are far more energetic than anything on Tame Impala’s previous efforts. Previously, Parker’s music demanded that you stop, sit down, and pay attention. He hasn’t lost any of his earlier complexity, but this time around he wants to make you get up and move.

Not all of the experiments on The Slow Rush make successful landings. Parker makes a few choices that don’t mesh with his established sound, and the resulting tracks feel out of place. On “Tomorrow’s Dust,” Parker constructs the melody around a jangling acoustic guitar that doesn’t mesh with the accompanying synths and electronic noises. The two-chord progression also feels a little basic when compared to the rest of the album’s

In other places, the album’s vigor cold shoulders its slower tracks, making them come off as portentous. “Glimmer,” a short track consisting of woozy synths underlining a repetitive, mantra-like chorus, is a yawner given the album’s underlying groove. The closer, “One More Hour,” suffers from Parker not knowing when to stop. Clocking in at seven minutes, the slow build of synths, drums, and guitars comes off as pretentious rather than spellbinding, which may have been the intent. There are only a few of these stumbles in what is a strong disc overall.

The Slow Rush‘s lyrics are consistently excellent. Parker embraces ambiguity; he questions himself from line to line. Much of The Slow Rush is about the uncertainties of time, speculating on the future, its conflicts, rewards, and fears. The opener “One More Year” and the closer “One More Hour” form a sort of dramatic loop which examines a relationship collapsing under the weight of time. “What we did one day on a whim has slowly become all we do,” Parker laments, seeing spontaneity fade into routine. But the singer immediately U-turns, desperate to prolong the pairing, asking “Why don’t we say one more year?” The closing track, “One More Hour,” finds Parker at the very end of 2020, looking back on all that has happened, for better and for worse. Whatever happened in the middle, Parker assures us, he “did it for love.” The sentiment both provides conventional closure and undercuts it.

In contrast to Parker’s skepticism, the joyous ballad “Instant Destiny” champions the rush of spontaneity. “We can get a home in Miami, go and get married, tattoo your name on my arm,” he croons, glorifying romantic impulse. On the next track, “Borderline,” Parker quickly goes in reverse, worrying that he’s “Gone a little far this time.” The Slow Rush is driven by this emotional struggle.

Parker’s slip-sliding inner conflict is most powerful on “Posthumous Forgiveness,” a stunning seven-minute exploration of the artist’s relationship with his late estranged father. He begins angrily, berating his dad for leaving without dealing with his past wrongdoings. But, by the end, Parker has become remorseful, wishing for some sort of meaningful closure. “Just a boy and his father, what I’d give for another,” he sings, both mournful and angry. The song closes with Parker speaking across time and space to his father: “Wanna play you all my songs, and hear your voice sing along.” This lament is poignant and breathtaking, a memorial and a reckoning.

The Slow Rush may be a step forward, but it is also a bit of a placeholder for Tame Impala. Rather than trying to rethink his signature sound, Parker is content to explore his layered, dreamy version of synth pop and rock. A number of these tracks show how much mileage there is in his original musical vision; but the strains are apparent in a few uninspired tracks. Still, The Slow Rush reflects Parker’s impressive talents as a lyricist; his conflicted ruminations on time and memory are most likely his best writing to date.

Alex Szeptycki is a student from Charlottesville, Virginia, currently studying at Stanford University. He is majoring in American Studies, with a focus in Contemporary Art and Media. He is currently finishing up his senior year, before looking to pursue a career in writing or the arts.

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