Tame Impala's 'The Slow Rush' Is Worth the Wait

Kevin Parker’s first album in five years had a prolonged rollout, but he delivers on the Coachella-sized expectations.
February 14, 2020, 12:27pm
Tame Impala's 'The Slow Rush' Is Worth the Wait
 Neil Krug

Kevin Parker has staked his claim as music’s foremost loner across Tame Impala's four albums. From his 2010 psych-rock debut Innerspeaker to the just-released The Slow Rush, the 34-year-old Australian has performed, recorded, and produced everything himself. Some of his best-known songs have names like “Solitude Is Bliss” and “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?,” the latter of which appears on an LP called Lonerism. Parker clearly prefers solitude, which is funny considering Tame Impala is one of the most famous rock acts in the world.

Though Parker’s project started modestly, making kaleidoscopic, driving, and John Lennon-inspired songs about loneliness, his later material fully immersed itself in more ambitious pop territory. It turns out feeling anxious and alienated is undeniable fodder for the festival and algorithm-driven masses, as his songs have been covered by Rihanna, and earned him top billing at Coachella and a Saturday Night Live performance.

Parker's latest, The Slow Rush, has a title that’s as much of a wink to its prolonged rollout as it is about the patient euphoria of its 12-song track list. It’s been almost five years since he released his breakthrough, Currents, and last year's Coachella and SNL appearances made it seem as though a new album was imminent.

Though early singles “Patience” and “Borderline" dropped last spring, the album and its February release date weren’t announced until the end of the year. Parker explained the delay to Uproxx earlier this month: "Because I was just lost in my own head, I thought I could finish it in a month. Turns out it took me seven more months. That’s just the kind of delusion that comes with making an album all by yourself, is not knowing where the f*ck you are in the progress of it.” Solitude wasn't bliss for Parker this time around, but his perfectionism comes through on The Slow Rush, a rewarding LP that excels in atmospherics and vibe-setting.

As Parker’s scope and ambitions have broadened, Tame Impala has stayed consistent. “I want to be a Max Martin,” Parker recently told Billboard. So much has happened between the self-recording of his debut to his Rolling Stone interview last year where he wondered if his prop-heavy Coachella headlining set topped "Beyoncé’s confetti record,” that his admission shouldn’t be all that surprising. Parker's deep-dive into pop’s many possibilities is present throughout his catalog—just take Currents highlight “The Less I Know The Better” or the paradoxically ebullient “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” off Lonerism, as well as his many collaborations with stars like Mark Ronson, Lady Gaga, and Travis Scott. The Slow Rush is his most electronic-and-pop-forward LP yet, complete with a disco-minded opener and the aforementioned single “Borderline,” which almost feels like Tame Impala covering the Backstreet Boys. Another single, the funky “Lost In Yesterday” feels like it could be the ubiquitous 2020 equivalent of MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” It's a reach to even call this rock music, but it works.

More than just exploring pop and dance music deeper than ever, Parker’s priorities have shifted. In February 2019, he got married, and that newfound stability is heavily felt in the fabric of these songs. "Instant Destiny" is the happiest Parker has ever sounded. "We'll be lovers until the end of time / I see it now / I see just how you're so right / You're so clear now," he sings. Elsewhere, "On Track," the closest thing to a ballad on the LP, is even more hopeful: "Troubles keep falling in my lap, yeah / But strictly speaking, I'm still on track / So tell everyone I'll be alright / 'Cause, strictly speaking, I've got my whole life." This is a far cry from the guy who sang on his first album, "And in all honesty, I don't have a hope in hell." He sounds actually content, which is more of a shock than anything else on the album.

But this is still Tame Impala, so there's still self-inflicted anxiety and melancholy permeating through club-ready tracks. "Posthumous Forgiveness" finds Parker addressing his estranged and deceased father: "Wanna tell you 'bout the time / Wanna tell you 'bout my life / Wanna play you all my songs / And hear your voice sing along." In many ways, this is an album about accepting the fact that time is moving with or without us. Album highlight "It Might Be Time" hits this dead-on as Parker croons, "You ain't as young as you used to be / It might be time to face it" over synth-based sirens. But where previous Tame Impala lyrics came from a place of unease and fear, Parker feels centered and confident.

The Slow Rush feels like the start of a new era for Parker. Tame Impala is in a unique spot, able to bridge genre divides more seamlessly than any rock act right now. They're still indie enough to still get unqualified critical acclaim and mainstream enough for big-box festivals and pop star cosigns. This album isn't Parker's biggest statement yet—that'd be Currents—but it's one that sets him up to lean even further into his Max Martin-sized goals. "As long as I can, long as I can / Spend some time alone," he sings on "One More Hour." He'll be just fine if he keeps doing just that.