Krista Schlueter/The New York Times

March 1, 2020

Tame Impala’s ‘The Slow Rush’ Is Forgettable At Best

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This is one half of the arts department’s review of Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush. The second article can be found here

Since his 2015 release of Currents, Tame Impala has achieved an incredible level of crossover appeal. Currents was psychedelic enough to appeal to prog and alternative rock fans, mild enough to attract a broader pop audience and even pulled in listeners from the hip hop and techno communities due to its punchy basslines and inventive synths. It’s fair to say that The Slow Rush had plenty of lofty expectations by a diverse group of music fans to live up to.

While The Slow Rush offers an engaging atmosphere and some fantastic emotional and nuanced moments, it ultimately fails to live up to the expectations set by Currents, although I believe it is unfair to expect that it would. Unfortunately, it also has significant drawbacks that hurt the overall effectiveness of the album.

On first listen, The Slow Rush has many satisfying moments. I enjoyed the carefree and catchy vocal lines and punchy, Kanye-like horns on “Instant Destiny,” the dreamy piano tones and optimistic lyrics on “Breathe Deeper” and the thick grooves on “It Might Be Time.” These are all solid tunes that play to Tame Impala’s musical strengths. I particularly enjoyed “Borderline,” one of the singles for the album that was released last April. It features rhythmic guitar stylings, a plucky vocal melody and a clairvoyant kick and snare beat that cuts through the spookiness and anxiety of the lyrics.

While Tame Impala is known mainly for his creative sound play, The Slow Rush surprisingly distinguishes itself with the vulnerability and emotion displayed in front man Kevin Parker’s lyrics. “Posthumous Forgiveness” capitalizes on a searing, epic instrumentation by pairing it with an intense narrative progression. Parker challenges his distant father figure, uncertain of his whereabouts or even if he is still alive, but ultimately offers his forgiveness. On the other side of the emotional spectrum, Parker exudes optimism on “On Track.” Once again, the musical composition and arrangement emphasizes the dramatic lyrical moments of the song to great effect. Parker lightheartedly reassures us that even in the face of life’s many hardships, you can keep moving forward with the mantra, “strictly speaking, I’m still on track.”

Despite these moments that I greatly enjoyed, The Slow Rush is not a cohesive album. As much as “Posthumous Forgiveness” provided one of the most emotional performances on the album, it failed to live up to its potential. The song ends with a lengthy instrumental passage where several synth and guitar layers build the emotional climax, only to fizzle out with no catharsis. This is exactly the kind of moment that Currents would have capitalized on with an iconic guitar or synth solo; but this opportunity was not seized. As a result, the final emotional impact did not stick with me as strongly as it could have.

With the exception of “On Track,” the second half of The Slow Rush is weak. It does not offer any significant songs. There is a significant amount of material that should have been cut from this album, including standalone songs such as “Glimmer” and snippets of songs found in the final minutes of other tracks. These feel like undeveloped musical ideas that Parker could not bear to cut but bloat the album significantly to a runtime of just under an hour. Parker is on record as saying, “I like to imagine the part [of Breathe Deeper] at 4:37 is a sample of a song that exists in full somewhere in a parallel universe.” While this is a fun concept, the album does not explore themes of alternate realities, leaving the audience confused as to the meaning of this material. To me, it seems to be an excuse to preserve material that Parker felt connected to but should never have made it into the final album.

I don’t believe Tame Impala was ready to release a new album. You would think that five years would have been enough time for Kevin Parker to write enough quality material for The Slow Rush. Looking at his final track list, there is way too much fluff.

While there are some real gems on this album that I will listen to for years to come, The Slow Rush is not a musically or narratively complete project, falling short of Tame Impala’s standards, much less the legacy set by Currents.

James Robertson is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jrobertson@cornellsun.com.