Tame Impala’s ‘The Slow Rush’ Is Beautiful But Paper Thin
'The Slow Rush' is pretty, and there's a lot of it. But given the band has already mastered that way of making music, is it really so crazy to hope that Parker and co. might one day try doing less?
Kevin Parker, the creative force behind Australian psych-rock heroes Tame Impala, has always had the same problem: he’s a perfectionist.
That means agonisingly long wait times between records — devoted fans had to twiddle their thumbs for four years between the release of Currents, the album that cemented the band’s place in the pop culture firmament, and their newest work, The Slow Rush. But, more importantly, it also means that Parker is always at risk of buffing out the things that make him special.
Left too long to his own devices, and the musician has a habit of sanding his songs down to nothing. The best Tame Impala songs feel dashed out and brief; the worst ones so pretty and belaboured as to barely exist at all. Unfortunately, it’s the latter mode that the band find themselves in throughout The Slow Rush, the sonic equivalent of gold-leaf printed wallpaper in an upscale hotel: baroque, beautiful, but utterly paper thin.
Which doesn’t make it bad, exactly. Parker remains one of the most influential and important producers in the game, and the joy of hearing him tinker around in his studio like an obsessive grandfather working away in a backyard shed is still as thrilling as ever. ‘Is It True’, the record’s most straight-up-and-down pop single, is a beehive of trills and echoes, and ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’ smears a fuzzy vocal line over a guitar part that could have been written by Hal from 2001: A Space Oddyssey, had he been raised on a steady diet of Spaghetti Western soundtracks.
Every sound on every song has been manipulated in complicated, artful ways — mini-universes like ‘Breathe Deeper’ could have taken four years to write in and of themselves, let alone the rest of the album. So who knows if The Slow Rush contains Parker’s blood and tears, but it’s definitely full of his sweat, a compact, interlocked puzzle of melodies and shimmering guitar licks.
Initially that complexity overwhelms, and the first listen is a shimmering, frenetic experience. But constructing a puzzle this elaborate is an open invitation to the listener to solve it. Which is a problem, given that Tame Impala songs are never really ‘about’ anything. Beauty is self-justifying — there’s no ‘why’ to ask of a song like bombastic closer ‘One More Hour’. Parker’s concerns are purely aesthetic — it’s impossible to imagine a ‘political’ Tame Impala record, let alone an ‘autobiographical’ one. The man’s an 18th century landscape painter, not a confessional poet or a politician, and the more effort he puts into his songs, the more compelled an audience might be to work out what they ‘mean’.
Who knows if The Slow Rush contains Parker’s blood and tears, but it’s definitely full of his sweat.
Which is nothing, really — less so even than Tame Impala hits of the past. Gone are the flute blasts of emotion that make ‘The Less I Know The Better’ and ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ so special. Songs like ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’ are beautiful, sure. But they feel like evidence that Parker has lost himself in the studio, wandering around in ever-smaller circles of detail, rather than risking exposing himself.
But even if you resist the urge to pick the thing apart or to search for the point of exercise, there’s still a distinct sense of over-familiarity. Parker has a single creative mode, and on The Slow Rush, he burrows deeper into it, rather than ever pushing his boundaries outward. The disco-indebted, Daft Punk-esque ‘On Track’ might be the best song on the record, but it could just have easily been a Lonerism B-side, while ‘Glimmer’ is a long corridor of self-referential in-jokes.
The fans won’t be complaining, then. But anyone with even a passing hope that Parker might be interested in making something more than Currents Part 2 will be disappointed. The Slow Rush is pretty, it’s slick, and there’s a lot of it. But given that the band has already determinedly mastered that way of making music, is it really so crazy to hope that Parker and co. might one day try doing less?
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.