No Longer a Loner, Kevin Parker Tries Out Pop Stardom on The Slow Rush
Tame Impala return like you’ve never heard them beforeMusic Reviews Tame Imapala
In 2012, Kevin Parker was an introvert. It’s no wonder he titled his now classic sophomore record Lonerism: Those 12 songs document the internal anger, anxiety and social self-sabotage of a man who so badly wanted to be personable and in love, but was legitimately unable to even muster up the courage to talk to a woman he was interested in. Over the best and most inventive psychedelic rock instrumentals in decades, Parker let all of his apprehensions and regrets out, knowing full well he’s “gotta be above it now” and that he “can’t let them bring me down” though he’s long realized they will. Optimism led him astray. He felt like he was only going backwards, and he was left wondering why won’t they talk to him.
Eight years later, things are wildly different. Headlining festivals and writing for pop and rap stars, Kevin Parker is finally confident. He’s now wondering aloud about getting a home in Miami, going and getting married and tattooing her name on his arm (“Instant Destiny”) and thinking back on how he was feeling a year prior when he had no cares in the world (“One More Year”). He’s such a changed man that he even admits to being unable to identify with his old records: “There’s no use trying to relate to that old song,” he croons at the beginning of “Tomorrow’s Dust.”
That change isn’t only confined to his lyrics; The Slow Rush sounds nothing like Lonerism. If anything, it represents the natural progression for an artist who fully blew up when Rihanna covered the ultra-smooth, poppy Currents highlight “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” the very same track Donald Glover used throughout his Atlanta ad campaign, and began writing alongside Travis Scott and Lady Gaga. Of course this is a pop album at heart.
It’s not like he wanted to be anything other than a pop star from the beginning, either. Though he’s one of the most talented guitarists and producers of his generation, he’s long talked about his obsession with Britney Spears in interviews, even once going so far as to say, “I also have a desire to sound like Britney Spears. I love pop music and bad plastics.” He doesn’t sound like Britney Spears on The Slow Rush, but knowing that he’s long been a fan of her take on bubblegum pop, it makes a bit more sense.
So throw out whatever preconceptions you had about Tame Impala’s past work, and ask yourself this question: Is this a good pop album?
The answer is a half-hearted, hesitant yes.
The record is overflowing with ideas—sometimes to its own detriment—but even heavy bass and bubbling synths can’t mask some god-awful lyrics. He’s so committed to an AABB rhyme scheme throughout that his words sound like they were written by someone half his age. And now years removed from his days as an anxious loner, he allows himself some odd humble-brags, like on “Posthumous Forgiveness” where he name drops The Beatles’ famed studio and The Rolling Stones in rapid-fire: “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.” He even feels the need to tell everyone exactly how long a year is on “One More Year,” exclaiming, “We got a whole year / 52 weeks / Seven days each / Four seasons, one reason, one way.” It’s Tame Impala’s version of Taylor Swift’s “Hey kids, spelling is fun!”
Tame Impala records are made to blow your mind, but there’s nothing as revelatory as moments of release on past songs like “Apocalypse Dreams” or “Let It Happen.” But Parker’s newfound house instrumentals do work well at points, particularly on the almost-instrumental track, “Glimmer.” The song feels like a long-lost Daft Punk single, complete with Nile Rodgers-esque guitar flourishes (one of the only times you even hear a guitar on this record).
Possibly taking a cue from past collaborator Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” Parker strings together quite a few different songs in the same track. On “Posthumous Forgiveness,” he blends “Let It Happen”-esque pounding synths into a smooth-as-hell R&B-indebted half-song. He does the same thing on the next track too, “Breathe Deeper,” which sees Parker toy with a false ending, leading into a track reminiscent of a druggier, dancier “Wink” from The Voidz’ 2018 album Virtue.
And will The Slow Rush blow your mind? Probably, but maybe in a much different way than you were likely expecting from a Tame Impala record. Instead of aiming to melt the brains of tens of thousands of twenty-somethings in a field on psychedelics (though this likely still will, let’s be honest), Parker instead turns his eye toward dancehalls, replacing fuzzy guitars and impressive percussion with bouncy piano and dance-y synths. The dance-influenced production is impressive, but it still isn’t enough to mask The Slow Rush’s many flaws. And Parker still largely finds salvation on the dance floor.
Revisit Tame Impala’s 2010 Daytrotter session: