In 2020, it’s only logical for Kevin Parker to release a project thematically preoccupied with the passing of time. By 2015, the revisionist psych-rocker had achieved unreasonable levels of success for five years and three albums of material. He picked up Grammy nominations for two of these, went on to collaborate with Lady Gaga, Travis Scott and Kanye West, and enjoyed a lengthy creative process before putting the finishing touches on this widely anticipated fourth release.
It’s worth remembering just how deserved this wild success was. 2010’s Innerspeaker was a cult classic overnight, quickly considered an important landmark for global alternative rock. 2012’s Lonerism refused to emulate it, tugging Parker’s sound into more dynamic, expansive areas of the psychedelic, to astounding results. Three years later, Currents saw the Australian achieve the perfect communion of (unanimous) critical acclaim and bona fide mainstream appeal, complete with radio play and festival headline slots.
Almost single-handedly writing, recording and producing everything, Parker’s pantologist reputation was already established before he begun lending a production hand to other artists. His everyman sensibility seemed to be at the centre of a wave of ‘slacker rock’ personalities down under, in North America, and here in the UK. His work helped reinvent disco, bridging gaps between guitar rock and electronic, alternative and pop, nostalgia and the future.
So going into to The Slow Rush, high expectations were both justified and inexorable. Listening to it (repeatedly) and coming out the other end (consistently) disappointed is therefore all the more crushing. Parker’s too talented for this to be anywhere near bad. It’s been laboured over for too long by somebody too obsessively singular to not be worth the run-time… but, it just isn’t great.
Opener ‘One More Year’ kicks off with a throbbing groove as Parker syncopates against the beat: “Do you remember we were standing here a year ago?” The nostalgia shifts between universal and personal, observing how “What we did, one day, on a whim / Has slowly become all we do,” before expanding back outwards: “Fifty-two weeks / Seven days each / Four seasons, one reason, one way.”
It’s not the only time Parker engineers a track around memorability and how catchy his hook is. Lead single ‘Borderline’ (after ‘Patience’ was left out) may appear here in a slightly different form, but is no less reliant on refrain, sacrificing structural complexity for how successfully it translates to the dance floor. Its rhythmic tendency to stop, start is fine; but it pales in comparison to the repetition-by-design of ‘Be Above It’ or ‘Elephant’.
The strategy has better results on another single: ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’. The piano heavy ‘Breathe Deeper’ begins interesting, but goes on two minutes too long and trails off with ninety seconds of muffled voices. ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’ has a similarly uninspired twenty second outro, threatening to undo the refreshing use of acoustic guitar and a cutting electric, and Parker’s Thom Yorke-style wailing (a new vocal avenue for the Australian).
It’s not all disappointment. The irresistible bass lick to ‘Lost in Yesterday’ echoes the likes we’ve had since as far back as ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’. Its opening line – “When we were livin’ in squalor, wasn’t it heaven?” – is as instantly iconic as “I’m about to do something crazy, no more delayin'” on ‘Instant Destiny’, whose warbling synths begin to resemble Sci-Fi the longer it goes on, complete with siren effects. It’s one of the few examples of necessary digression within the space of a song, refined into a neat three minutes where others ramble to the six-minute mark. Of these, nothing has the verve and finesse of the showstopping, seven-minute ‘Let It Happen’ five years ago.
The glimmers of epic are pretty sparse on The Slow Rush, which has never been the case for a Tame record, no matter how much Parker’s project has mutated and evolved. ‘On Track’ deceives with a ballad start, before reaching ‘Baba O’Riley’ heights in its second minute. ‘One More Hour’ is similarly bombastic, the grand finale to an otherwise cyclical fifty-seven minutes. Early reviews described getting lost in the musical journey of this album, but it’s hard to locate one, at least not with the kind of space, range and diversions of Innerspeaker–Currents.
Those projects still spoil for choice – as wonderful as ‘The Less I Know the Better’ is, ‘Eventually’ is just stunning; ditto ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ vs. ‘Sun’s Coming Up’. While rarely disposable, The Slow Rush offers far more isolated moments of inherently great. Where the more instrumental ‘Alter Ego’ soars, here we get something as forgettable as ‘Glimmer’. Where ‘Apocalypse Dreams’ and ‘The Moment’ absolutely kick, here we get ‘It Might Be Time’, which needed a more rigorous cut in the editing suite.
Parker has hardly been one to trim or go for any kind of punk brevity, which made sense up to now. But for an artist so important last decade precisely because he refused to sit still (or interpret “psychedelic” as one univocal thing), it seems odd to not reinvent again this time around. By its second track, he promises “I’m about to do something crazy”; The Slow Rush not only doesn’t, but proceeds to give an hour of expensive, polished soundscapes that never dare to be groundbreaking. The result is meticulous but lacks edge. After half a decade out for Tame Impala, it’s hard not to ask: “Is this it?”