Tame Impala: The Slow Rush review – polished disco funk

Kevin Parker shifts further away from his psych rock roots, while pondering happiness and his continued relevance

Around the time of 2015’s Currents – the third Tame Impala album – mainman Kevin Parker described having an epiphany some time previously. Driving around Los Angeles on magic mushrooms and cocaine, he realised just how magnificent the Bee Gees sounded, emotionally and technically. Parker is an Australian man given to singing beatific, double-tracked harmonies in falsetto; he is also a studio nerd with a long and attentive study of psychedelia behind him. The sound of the Bee Gees on mushrooms insinuated itself into Parker’s work, culminating in a massive and deserved hit album.

Currents was an album all about transition, on which Parker disentangled himself, as gently as he could, from a relationship to begin anew. At the same time, this progenitor of the 00s revival in psychedelic rock was also outgrowing his early sound, a monomaniacal stoner guitar fuzz. Parker embraced the expansive possibilities of electronics, of the dancefloor, of popularity. The mainstream, it turned out, was in a similar headspace: riding an uptown funk renaissance, high on weird production and flirting shamelessly with soft rock.

If anything, The Slow Rush – a much-delayed sequel – only pushes up the faders on the funky disco and aerated male vocals. It leans further towards the brothers Gibb than the psilocybin stash. Parker actually told Billboard recently that he now has pop super-producer Max Martin in his sights.

Watch a video for Lost in Yesterday.

You’d be hard-pressed to identify a guitar on The Slow Rush. Instead, Borderline channels the bittersweetness of the late 70s dancefloor through expensive studio technology. Breathe Deeper is an easy funk roll abetted by runs of bejewelled piano that cut across the rhythms. Glimmer is basically a house track. Is It True seems made for throwing shapes on a dancefloor – the kind that might end in the splits. We’re not in the Perth underground any more, Toto.

Although long-time listeners will grasp that all this resonant slickery comes originally from outsiderdom – Parker is a perfectionist gear-monkey whose second album was called Lonerism – it now sounds sleek and polished, the work of a gilded insider; ELO updated by Daft Punk. Parker’s signature sonic disorientation remains, but the wobbliness takes a backseat to making a very big audience dance. Lost in Yesterday gets it right, with a galumphing 80s bassline that would sound smug if it weren’t strafed by analogue burbles and a terrific lyric about false nostalgia.

As The Slow Rush builds, you have to hold on tight to the idea that, despite the musical lengths Parker used to go through to camouflage his lyrics, he is actually one of our most intriguing confessional singer-songwriters. Its hazy thermals notwithstanding, Currents tugged on the heartstrings as Parker struggled to decide which urges to honour and which to discount – a state of disquiet that contrasted with the stately glide of his music.

That luminous emotional core is harder to locate on The Slow Rush. But it is there. It helps to know that, while writing these songs, Parker had to flee a Malibu Airbnb in 2018 clutching only his laptop, a hard drive and his 1960s vintage Höfner bass – the kind Paul McCartney plays – as forest fires consumed the neighbourhood.

Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.
‘We’re not in the Perth underground any more, Toto’: Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker. Photograph: Neil Krug

Parker’s complex relationship with his father has formed the backbeat to a number of his songs. Posthumous Forgiveness is one album highlight, channelling the heady 60s sounds also beloved of Parker senior. On this ambivalent love song from a grown-up son to the flawed father he lost to cancer in 2009, the drums (Parker’s primary instrument) pummel home the harsher words.

If The Slow Rush has an overarching theme, it is the passage of time. (A non-album track that came out last March was called, knowingly, Patience.) The stereo-panned opening track, One More Year, contemplates the emotional distance of 12 months. Many Tame Impala songs sound as if they are unfurling in real time: On Track is a pretty pastorale that sounds like Parker self-soothing about how long his album is taking to make.

As concepts go, the act of maturing gradually into happiness is harder to grasp than the carpe diem of Currents. But Parker is now 34, and singing about catching up with more adult concerns. The giddy Instant Destiny imagines “do[ing] something crazy”: buying a house in Miami and getting married – the latter of which Parker did earlier this year. There are some parallels here with Assume Form, James Blake’s last album. Love and fulfilment are harder to write about than sorrow and yearning, and both Blake’s and Parker’s records do so in ways that are not trite.

The Slow Rush also finds Parker fretting openly about continued relevance. “You ain’t as cool as you used to be,” Parker smiles wryly at himself on It Might Be Time. “Will I be known and loved?” he wonders on Borderline. It’s safe to say The Slow Rush will only expand Tame Impala’s audience… and that this thoughtful amalgam of Supertramp and the Weeknd will be inescapable this year.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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