Tame Impala’s latest does nothing to change the narrative that Parker’s emulation of other bands borders on unintentional parody.
Kevin Parker is often praised for his ability to take a sound that audiences are familiar with and contort it into something that’s somehow different, breathing new life into a lot of musical ideas that are older than he is. Parker’s passion project, Tame Impala, has drawn comparisons to the Flaming Lips, Supertramp, even the Beatles — heaping levels of praise that might make one think this act is due a place in music’s pantheon. The Slow Rush, though, is a strong argument against that. As has been the case with other Tame Impala albums, Parker writes all of the songs and records all of the vocal/instrumental parts himself. This remains an impressive, and somewhat uncommon feat — especially as one considers, whatever criticisms can be lobbed at The Slow Rush, that Parker remains skillful at all the roles he takes on, from the pleasing sound of his vocals to the many guitar tricks and instrumental fills he builds into his songs, to the bevy of keyboard sounds that he blends sonically with other instrumentation. The issue with The Slow Rush — and as is becoming increasingly obvious, with Tame Impala as a project — is that the peak moments of musicality here tend to be mere imitations of much better artists’ music. And not just sounds, either: Even Parker’s lyrical approaches mimic ‘60s/’70s rock bands, recycling sentiments of ‘free love’ and ‘wanting to feel it’ with a haziness that clearly aims to replicate peak psychedelia. Worse are Parker’s bush-league attempts at a jammier sound, almost reminiscent of My Morning Jacket but obviously part of a line of influence that extends back to the Grateful Dead and further.
Parker just seems bound by the restraints that his sonic template has imposed on him; he sticks to a standard, almost-formula psych-rock, with only a minor sense of individualism. The downside to making every part of your own album? Well, there’s no one but yourself to blame when it…sucks. Also, the song titles on The Slow Rush sound like the names of cologne brands that might be stocked at a gas station (“Breathe Deeper,” “Tomorrow’s Dust,” “Glimmer”). All of which is to say that Tame Impala ultimately suffers from the same malady as Greta Van Fleet: they resemble and emulate other bands to such a degree that they start to sound like a parody of those other acts that inspired them. And yet, Tame Impala still get heaps more critical plaudits than any number of more fully developed psych-rock acts out there with their own unique sound.
Published as part of Ledger Line | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 2.