Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Tame Impala finally release another album: Could Lady Gaga and Rihanna be to blame for the delay?

The Australian pop/rock band’s fourth LP finally reaches our ears on February 14, five years since their last release

Dominic Simper, Kevin Parker, Cam Avery, Julien Barbagallo and Jay Watson of Tame Impala are releasing a new album this month. Courtesy FilmMagic
Dominic Simper, Kevin Parker, Cam Avery, Julien Barbagallo and Jay Watson of Tame Impala are releasing a new album this month. Courtesy FilmMagic

Is it all Rihanna’s fault that Tame Impala’s new album took so long to reach us? Or should we blame Lady Gaga, a little, too?

The title, The Slow Rush, isn’t hard to interpret. When the Australian pop / rock band’s fourth LP is finally released on Friday, close to five years will have passed since its predecessor, Currents, came out – a half-decade wait during which modern music, and the industry that maintains it, has changed immeasurably.

During that time, the band’s reputation has evolved in an unprecedented manner, too – thanks, it must be said, in large part to Rihanna. The chart-­slaying superstar’s unlikely cover of Currents’s New Person, Same Old Mistakes – which appears on her 2016 album, Anti, renamed simply, Same Ol’ Mistakes – completed Tame Impala’s transformation from a trippy, hippy, bearded psych-rock band playing to chin-stroking musicians, to the trending pop hipsters they are today.

Or should we say, he is today? Tame Impala’s worst-kept secret is that all the music – every thudding drum, woozy bassline, droned synth, blissed-out vocal and sun-kissed harmony – was written, played, recorded and produced by one dude, frontman Kevin Parker.

The journey of a genius

Reportedly a nervy, antisocial child, growing up in Perth, Australia, Parker found solace in his father’s record collection of vintage pop – The Beatles, The Shadows, The Beach Boys – and eventually dropped out of university when the tunes he’d been crafting in his bedroom since his early teens were picked up for release by Australian indie label Modular Recordings. It was only after these songs emerged on a self-titled EP that he formalised Tame Impala as a live outfit – initially enlisting friends Dominic Simper (bass) and Jay Watson (drums) to bring the music to the stage.

But that didn’t change the creative process a jot. To record a debut album, Parker holed himself up for three months in a remote beach shack – with 180-degree views of the Indian Ocean, but without phones, internet, TV – or bandmates, despite the heady, improvised feel of the music he was to create.

The result, 2012’s Innerspeaker, mixed by Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, was a fuzzy throwback; spacey, effects-­laden guitars layered on to trudging bass and primitive drums – conjuring long, bleary, beachy, wig-outs that everyone assumed were full-band jams. All bathed in a Beatles-ey, tape-era glow, it chimed with a hip trend for all things psychedelic to come, and was named Rolling Stone’s album of the year.

That honour also went to superior follow-up Lonerism, which added synths, samples, drum machines, and sharper melodic sensibilities to Parker’s woozy, home-jam sound, simultaneously soaring further into the blissed-out ether, while serving up big hooks and catchier choruses – perfect pop that washes in waves, rather than blast you in the face. As well as Rolling Stone, NME, Filter and Triple J all ranked the record that year’s best.

Parker was soon parking guitars almost altogether, with the bulk of Currents constructed on a laptop, a now self-mixed disco pop mood piece that pushed Tame Impala even ­closer to the mainstream. And yes – Rihanna finished the job. Her surprisingly faithful cover was perplexing, but ­Parker was seemingly on-board – his record company later released a statement clarifying his approval following the sudden drop. (Later, it emerged singer SZA introduced RiRi to Parker’s work.)

Such an endorsement changed Parker’s life for ever – kick-starting a wave of genre-hopping cross­-pollination that would have been unheard of for a rock frontman a decade earlier.

The breakdown of genre

In the four years since Rihanna’s cover, the shaggy-haired and softly-spoken Parker has emerged as an unlikely pop songwriter, producer and remixer for hire, embracing a series of boundary-busting collaborations, which have the carefree air of a schoolboy enjoying a long summer break.

If RiRi laid out the road ahead, then it was Lady Gaga who added the tarmac. In September 2016, Gaga announced her return with Perfect Illusion – the first single from her country-tinged comeback fifth album, Joanne – a track that the hype machine was at pains to point out was based on an original idea by Parker, who finished it off alongside Gaga and super-producer pal Mark Ronson. Parker readily admitted the collaboration started out as a “career move”, but promised it “became something so personal and so meaningful for everyone involved”.

However sincere he was, it sure opened doors. Soon after, the musician explored an apparent love for hip-hop, signing up to produce Koi Child’s self-­titled debut album – which won the band four trophies at Australia’s Wam Awards.

They disbanded two years later – by which time Parker had already clocked credits on two of 2018’s biggest rap releases: Kanye West’s eighth outing, Ye (on the track Violent Crimes) and Travis Scott’s Astroworld (co-writing and co-­producing Skeletons) – and later playing in Scott’s band during a live appearance on Saturday Night Live.

In the same year, he also formed a duo with rapper Theophilus London, wittily dubbed Theo Impala, and found time to write a tune with EDM artist Zhu, My Life (complete with a video starring Willow Smith).

Earlier, Parker remixed a track for Miguel, complete with a video of the Australian ­musician and the R&B star brooding on a beach, and in 2017, he also performed a DJ set at the Governors Ball Music Festival, alongside his friend, Ronson.

And all this while, Parker was also working on existing Aussie-centric guitar-based side projects and ongoing commitments, which included mixing and co-producing Pond’s eighth album, Tasmania, from his home studio, reuniting psych-rock trio Mink Mussel Creek and remixing solo singles by bandmates Jay Watson (Anesthetized Lesson) and Julien Barbagallo (Longue la Nuit).

So if it was Rihanna who laid the train tracks and Gaga who supplied the engine fuel, it was still the moth-like contradictory whims and perfectionist tendencies of Parker which led to the long-delayed arrival of The Slow Rush – an album expected imminently ever since Tame Impala were announced as one of the headliners of Coachella 2019 – beginning a year-long promotional cycle, which only now finally reaches its conclusion.

Over the past 10 months, a total of four singles have been released, which taken together suggest the coming LP will only further plant Tame Impala’s brand in the heart of the mainstream. In the order they appeared: Borderline was a smouldering, slow disco groove, while It Might be Time sprinkles in heavier dance floor beats, basslines and even EDM siren effects. There’s a whiff of yacht rock to the spacey trudge ballad-esque Posthumous Forgiveness – Parker’s voice more distanced and ethereal than ever – while Lost in Yesterday is a future-dance floor head-­nodder with an irresistible falsetto chorus that would have fit Currents like a glove. And for the rest, we’ll have to wait a few hours more.

Updated: February 11, 2020 04:46 PM

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