When Kevin Parker entered an isolated beach shack to record “InnerSpeaker” in late 2009, he was prepared to risk every facet of his life to make the record a reality. Every endeavor in his life up to this point had been met with unfulfillment. His parents got divorced when he was a child, thus leading to a divided world view and a sense of abandonment. His hobbies as a teen were made up of vandalism, graffiti, drugs and, of course, music. Parker adored music to the point of not particularly caring about anything else in his life.
An article from Cosmic Magazine stated Parker had an astronomy exam the day he got a phone call from the independent Australian label, Modular Records. They had discovered some of his recordings online under the moniker of Tame Impala, and they were interested in putting something out with him. Parker turned the car around and never attended school again.
It’s this kind of grit and hunger that made Tame Impala unique when they came onto the scene in 2010. Parker’s love of music discovery, especially pop and psychedelic rock of the 60s and 70s, merged with the modern production techniques of the 2010s. He wore his influences on his sleeve and inspired a new generation to open their minds in the same vein as Baby Boomers and Generation X. Parker expanded upon this idea with each subsequent release, eventually reaching his pop apex on 2015’s “Currents,” which blasted his musical project into the stratosphere. Tame Impala might have still been on an independent label, but they were no longer an indie band; they were catapulted into stories of legend.
It’s been five years since “Currents” shifted the sound of 2010s indie pop music and fans were salivating for the next Tame Impala release. After a conventional rollout of singles spanning about a year, Tame Impala’s fourth LP, “The Slow Rush,” entered the ears of millions of listeners on Valentine’s Day.
“The Slow Rush” finds Parker washing himself clean of his early rock-influenced works and going in the full direction of pop. Gone is the warbling, crunchy guitar of “InnerSpeaker” and “Lonerism” to instead fully embrace house music, electronic and even disco elements.
Parker has flirted with these elements in the past, as “Lonerism” and “Currents” have their fair share of the synthesizer, but what made those albums so potent was the way they melded these styles with Parker’s own distinctive take on his greatest influences. It was like hearing John Lennon enter the 21st century with the same vigor he entered the studio with on The Beatles’ eponymous, experimental masterpiece back in 1968.
Sadly, this vigor seems to have excluded itself from Parker’s mental routine. “The Slow Rush” is Parker’s most tedious release to date, seeing him grow as a producer, yet sacrificing interesting, progressive songwriting for music that would do very well being played in your local Dillard’s. Simply put, this is decent background music with the voice of Parker being the only recognizable trait of Tame Impala’s DNA.
The production is lush and arguably the best it’s ever sounded. It has its moments of pure ear candy. The instruments sit well in the mix and every sound is distinct, with the mastering doing the compositions a big favor. The album uses a series of recognizable production techniques like looping and tremolo to really send the listener into a trance. This can be heard in the first few seconds of the album opener, “One More Year,” which sees Parker contemplating relationships once again. This remains one of the lyrical staples of Tame Impala’s music, along with isolation and self-discovery.
After the attention-grabbing opener fades away, you are greeted with the definitively trite “Instant Destiny,” which displays Parker’s affection towards his fiancé and proposal.
“I’m about to do something crazy, no more delayin’, no destiny is too far. We can get a home in Miami, go and get married, tattoo your name on my arm,” Parker says blandly on the opening lines.
Tame Impala has never sounded this uninspired, and ironically on a song that’s supposed to represent one of the happiest decisions any individual will make in their life. The vocal melody is banal and grating, not much different from many of the other hooks present on the album’s other songs.
The album doesn’t do much to make up for lyrical and melodic diminishment. The songs never truly go anywhere. Tame Impala was built on meandering song structure, being just unpredictable enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. There are still fleeting moments that resemble confidence, like the electronic pulses on single “Posthumous Forgiveness,” or the entirety of “Breathe Deeper,” a jubilant disco-inspired romp through the catacombs of bedroom performers or the dance floor.
On the other hand, there’s nothing here like the bridge in 2015’s “Let It Happen,” or the absolutely life-affirming breakdown on 2012’s “Apocalypse Dreams.” The sonic odysseys have been replaced with standard pop jams that could be made by anyone. Perhaps their production won’t be up to par with Parker’s perfectionistic tendencies, but I can’t help but to feel a sense of déjà vu with a plethora of other modern pop artists.
After working with a lot of different producers after 2015 (Travis Scott, Kanye West, etc.), one would assume that Parker would be a much more diverse artist. Yet, the ‘no’ men who wanted to make him better at the inception of his career, like early album mixer Dave Fridmann, have now been replaced with ‘yes’ men who adore his every move, even when it doesn’t have a satisfactory payoff. The biggest ‘yes’ man is himself, the sole producer of his own music.
Parker stated he wanted to make a pop album with “Currents,” and he succeeded with flying colors. What was supposed to be an evolution has devolved into conforming to the many artists he influenced. He has settled nicely into his newfound fame and is just enjoying the ride, but it sadly feels like one of Tame Impala’s hit songs, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards,” has become strangely prophetic. The impala has been tamed for now.
Final rating: 2.5/5
Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon