“Quite a show for a loner in LA / I wonder how I managed to end up in this place?” Kevin Parker’s got plenty on his mind. ‘Par for the course for someone who’s called an album Lonerism,’ you might think, but the nature of his concerns has shifted considerably over the past few years. ‘Borderline’, one of the highlights on the Australian artist’s long-awaited new record The Slow Rush – an updated version of a single he released last April because that’s an extremely Kevin Parker sort of thing to do – has the artist also known as Tame Impala looking back on a wild decade that began with the release of his debut album Innerspeaker and ended with the completion of his fourth.
The album arrives after the longest gap between albums in the project’s history, and that’s another thing that speaks to his perfectionist streak: this has been Parker’s solo project for the past 8 years. Complicating the matter is the fact that 2015’s Currents was a global smash, catapulting Parker into the spotlight after Lonerism proved he could stick around for the long haul, its hyper-detailed psychedelia and earworm hooks earning Tame Impala a headline spot on many a festival bill. How did that sit with a man known for self-probing lyricism and obsessive attention to detail? The question of what came next took a while to answer because of those same qualities, and it finds him still searching with the sort of restlessness that’s driven the project since its inception.
The ‘slow rush’ of its title refers to the passage of time, and how past, present and future interact. Parker’s in a much different place than he was both personally and artistically last time out. Driven by an insistent, pulsing rhythm that pairs well with his signature maximalist sound, ‘One More Year’ makes reference to him tying the knot last year, and while the seismic shift in his personal life might point toward a brighter album being in the works, the lyrics certainly don’t give that impression. “Now I worry our horizon’s been nothing new / ‘Cause I get this feeling, and maybe you get it too / We’re on a rollercoaster stuck on its loop-de-loop” coexists with the lovelorn rush of its chorus: “I never wanted any other way to spend our lives.”
Second-guessing himself in love and in his musical endeavours ties into Parker’s preoccupation with time: what he’s done, what he’s doing and what he’s yet to do. Themes of growth and change have appeared elsewhere in his work, but he’s able to look back on things both personally and professionally with a sense of clarity that’s developed from spending so much time working with himself – or should that be working on himself? The two-part ‘Posthumous Forgiveness’ pairs a slow-jam tempo and liquid bassline with a gut-punch lyric sheet, as Parker documents his troubled relationship with his deceased father and contrasts his newfound fame with a profound sense of loss: “Wanna tell you ‘bout the time I was in Abbey Road … I know you have demons / I got some of my own, I think you passed them along.”
It’s heavy stuff, but notably, Parker doesn’t allow himself to be defined by his past. Rejecting the idea of misty-eyed nostalgia on the irresistibly groovy ‘Lost in Yesterday’, he instead accepts what’s happened and strives to learn from it. The same can be said of his attitude to Tame Impala’s older material; matter-of-fact yet not dismissive, per ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’: “There’s no use trying to relate to that old song.” He can claim ownership of those old songs while admitting he’s changed as a person and creator since he wrote them; given the nature of the live band’s ever-changing lineup, it’s a pragmatic approach. He’s more concerned with the present, as is: ‘Breathe Deeper’ is a passionate plea to his new love in the hope that she sees he can be the strongest version of himself for her, shorn of the anxiety and self-doubt that was notable on earlier work and is still prominent here but in a much different context.
‘It Might Be Time’ has Parker battling with himself as he tackles impostor syndrome, wondering if his best days are behind him on a track that crackles with energy and ambition, while ‘On Track’ finds him taking solace from having a life yet unlived ahead of him: “One other minor setback / But strictly speaking I’m still on track / And all of my dreams are still in sight.” Looking to the future, those minor setbacks are nothing compared to the force of the slow rush.
Taking stock of his life across 12 tracks and 57 minutes, Parker brings it home on ‘One More Hour’, summing up the new record as well as the shift in his priorities since the release of Currents: “Whatever I’ve done, I did it for love / I did it for fun … Never for money / Not for houses / Not for her / Not for my future children – until now.” The Slow Rush is the answer to what comes next, the ending of something and the start of something else. It might not be 5 years until we next hear from Tame Impala, but Parker isn’t worried about that – whatever comes, he’s facing into the future with something akin to cautious optimism, still searching, having made his most ambitious record yet. He’ll work it out. He’s got time.