The Slow Rush Review: Kevin Parker’s Changing and That’s O.K.

While Currents was Parker’s full-on foray into the realms of disco, funk, and R&B, then The Slow Rush is the main entree to the appetizers that were the 34-year old Australian’s first three studio efforts. 

By Louis Addeo-Weiss

Site Score: 9/10

In 2010, when Innerspeaker formally introduced Tame Impala in the sense of a full-length release, early takers on were enamored with it’s rather retro-aesthetic. A record, now nearing a decade of fleshed out existence, which showcases Kevin Parker’s affinity for ‘60s psychedelia, ala Blue Cheer, later-era Beatles, and ‘70s prog. makes it is hard to imagine we’d be where we are today.

“There’s no use trying to relate to that old song,” sings Parker on “Tomorrow’s Dust,” an ode, not only to the stylistic shift in Tame Impala’s music but to the person Kevin Parker has slowly morphed into.

Stories follow narratives, with gradual progressions, regressions, and all of the in-between happening during that tale; in the case of Kevin Parker, that tale, one which is illustrated through his woozy, enveloping brand of psychedelic rock, is that of life.

For the most part, Parker’s music has always teetered between the abstract and the literal, yet, there’s an element to his songwriting that has always seemed a bit self-referential.

Lonerism, the acclaimed follow up – and to many, Parker’s musical opus under the Tame Impala monicker – embraced an ever-present narrative, that of change in his music. While Innerspeaker is more likely to appeal to fans of Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, or CAN, Lonerism saw Parker as that of the curious turtle – one yearning to get out of his shell, though never fully embracing this other side of him given his known insecurities.

Lonerism still puts the “psych” in psychedelic rock, but influences such as those listed above were substituted for the likes of Todd Rundgren, whose 1973 double album, A Wizard, A True Star, greatly inspired the record’s bubbly-fuzzed out atmosphere, and Supertramp, a group whose 1978-cross-continental smash, Breakfast in America, is among Parker’s favorite albums. Simply put, Lonerism is a pop record, though one still owing to his long-haired lysergic heroes.

It isn’t until 2015’s Currents – the album which took Tame Impala from indie-cult status, to arguably the world’s current heir to the “most popular rock band in the world” title – as Parker’s affinity for sugary pop music seamlessly melded with his dreamy, spaced-out production style. 

The use of keyboards and synthesizers permeated the record’s being, serving as the nucleus to its life and appeal, with tracks such as “Let it Happen” and “The Less I Know the Better” showcasing Parker touching on realms as diverse as synthpop, disco, funk, psychedelic pop, and R&B. Currents was his statement to the mainstream; a statement that read, “Hey, I can do this too.” 

And after a wait of nearly five years (1,671 days, but who’s counting), and Valentine’s Day has greeted us with the long-awaited follow-up, The Slow Rush.

A lot happened in those 1,671 days though. Parker collaborated with some of the biggest names in pop music. From headling Coachella, and a myriad of other festivals, co-writing, producing, and performing on Lady Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion” in 2016 with Mark Ronson and BloodPop, collaborating with Travis Scott on “SKELETONS” off of Scott’s 2018 trap-fantasy, ASTROWORLD, or programming drums on Kanye West’s “Violent Crimes,” playing SNL last April, or just even the mere fact that he married girlfriend Sophie Lawrence last February, Tame Impala has still remained quite busy (wink, wink).

While Currents was Parker’s full-on foray into the realms of disco, funk, and R&B, then The Slow Rush is the main entree to the appetizers that were the 34-year old Australian’s first three studio efforts. 

For the messianic-faced multi-instrumentalist, producer extraordinaire who once proclaimed “it feels like we only go backwards,” on the eponymously titled track off 2012’s Lonerism, The Slow Rush sees Parker adhering to the antithesis of this notion: he’s moving forward and embracing change, even if it means getting out of his comfort zone.

“I hate being stoned in public, so I’ll get stoned and go to the shops,” told Parker to Beats 1 host Zane Lowe.

This, may it be a minor victory, is reflective of the person Parker has slowly worked to morph himself into.

Known for his perfectionist tendencies, The Slow Rush’s quickly recorded nature further emphasizes getting out one’s comfort zone.

Take “Is It True,” a song that, with a little layered-KP vocal, could’ve easily made its way into Larry Levan’s setlist at Paradise Garage in the late-70s. Parker admitted to having only taken eight hours to fully conceive the track, something he would’ve never done in the past.

Don’t get things twisted though – Tame Impala is still very much a Kevin Parker-manned ship. Like the previous three albums, The Slow Rush bears only Parker’s fingerprints, with all of the recording, production, and mixing being undertaken by the modern psychedelic wiz-kid. Change hasn’t hit him there when it comes to Tame Impala.

As for a means of classification, The Slow Rush is impossible to pin down, with everything from house drums, IDM-streams of consciousness on opener “One More Year”, white-boy R&B on “Breathe Deeper”, epic progressive rock-crescendos on album-climax “Posthumous Forgiveness” that recall the days of Poseidon-era King Crimson, and of course, Parker’s patented take on psychedelia.

For classic psych-purists who were off-put by the switch up presented on Currents, a similar narrative opinion may present itself here but isn’t one of the hallmarks of psychedelic music the adherence to its freeform nature?

Take early Pink Floyd, say, the Syd Barrett-led era where the group would break into distended jam sessions during their early live performances, going wherever the music seemed to take them.

For Parker, this record represents that. While it isn’t the juxtaposed grandiosity that was Lonerism’s mammoth production-style over lyrical themes predicated on solitude and feelings of worthlessness, it serves as an amalgamation of everything that makes Kevin Parker arguably the most original and inventive mind working in music today.

“It Might Be Time,” an art pop-infused piece of psych-tronica,  serves as Parker’s ode to the previously mentioned Supertramp, with the build-up to the song’s chorus hitting the ears like a modern interpretation of “The Logical Song”. The song’s find our character in throes of his own relevancy, lost in his head trying to configure his place in the pop landscape while pondering the thrill of the spotlight.

“It ain’t as fun as it used to be, no. You’re goin’ under, you ain’t as young as you used to be,” which Parker sings over layered vocal effects, razor-sharp synths like something out of a Tears for Fears cut, and drums that would surely resonate with even the most ardent psych-rock admirers.

The reworking of “Borderline,” a track which debuted on SNL last April, feels more dynamic, where – while the original was a fun piece of yacht and soft rock bordering on something Donald Fegan and Walter Becker would’ve done on Aja some 40-some-odd years ago – pails in comparison to the final product presented here. 

“Posthumous Forgiveness,” the album’s fourth track and arguably its most glistening celestial body, is a constellation all on its own. 

A conflicted ode to his deceased father, who passed away in 2009 to skin cancer, the track sees Parker unveil his kitchen sink of tricks – from the two-sided nature of the song similar to that of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” only times-three in terms of length to the synth build-up which reads like a structure crumbling to the ground, segueing into a second-half that can only be described as mournful, yet, angelic.

“Wanna tell you ‘bout the time (I was) in Abbey Road or the time that I had Mick Jagger on the phone. I thought of you when we spoke.” Also “I wanna say its alright. You’re just a man after all. And I know you have demons. I got some of my own. Think you passed them along.”

It seems, with age, as Parker grows more content with his place in the zeitgeist, this has helped him come to terms with dark hours that have haunted him and informed his work along with it.

Musically, while nothing much more than a synth-flex similar to something Aphex Twin would’ve done on Come to Daddy, “Glimmer” may do more to inform the sound or sounds of The Slow Rush than any other song here.

“Oh, bass, cool. You know how I make the bass better? Crank the bass up.” And for the sake of the quality in conjunction with quantity, he’s right. Parker’s bass playing serves as the main arteries to his multi-genre assault on the pop landscape.

Take “Lost in Yesterday,” the last single released prior to the album’s release, whose bassline qualifies the track for the vaunted “slaps” badge. In other words, it slaps – giving the sequel for “The Way You Make Me Feel,” that we never knew we needed.

The glistening piano chords that open up “Breathe Deeper,” is Kevin Parker doing his best Backstreet Boys’ impression, except with the production qualities of a true studio wizard. Each vocal line sung by Parker here is sung with such conviction, even as he’s enforcing what can be done in times of conflict.

“You feel the seasons coming on, breathe a little deeper should you need to come undone. And let those colors run.” 

One can’t mention “Breathe Deeper,” without giving a nod to the guitar solo – which also serves as the song’s coda at the end. Equally fuzzed-out while also making for good dancefloor grooves, it easily one of the more enjoyable moments The Slow Rush has to offer.

We finally hear “Tomorrow’s Dust,” a song that was previewed in the Slow Rush-announcement video back in October. The song is a beautiful assembly of string synths, rhythmic drum, and bass playing, and Parker’s signature falsetto.

In totality, The Slow Rush will easily suffice a nearly-decade drought for ardent Tame Impala fans. It, while not perfect, as some moments resonate as a bit overproduced and appear a bit preachy (the approximations of a year on “One More Year”, still sees our modern psychedelic prophet, performing on virtually all cylinders. 

Following up a masterpiece is difficult, and for Parker, he’s now followed up two and done it pretty damn well too.