Review Summary: Empire of the Sun return with a wackier image, but more consistent material.
Everyone (well, almost everyone) loved Empire of the Sun back in 2008 when a string of their refreshingly eccentric electro-pop singles graced the airwaves. From the blissful falsetto of Walking On A Dream to the acoustic warmness of We Are The People, Empire of the Sun broke though from their Australian underground fan base of Pnau and The Sleepy Jackson that they had garnered for almost a decade. However, all was not as rosy as it first seemed; even the briefest of investigation into their debut LP revealed four standout singles propping up the whole album. Duds such as The World, Country and Without You induced an eighties snooze fest that many listens are only finding themselves waking up to now- right in time for their sophomore release, Ice on the Dune. Ooh and to shroud the album in more doubt of it being any way credible, Nick Littlemore lost the plot during EOTS’s initial tour, leaving Luke to tour the album alone. So can the Emperor and his aloof Prophet hold it together this time and build on the successful formula that was devised in those precious few singles from their Debut?
Unfortunately, the things didn’t begin too well; pre-album promotion consisted of some puzzle images that involved a hawk, a wolf and a knight and band promo photos in which Luke Steel looked increasingly like Ozzy Osborne’s (very) high, camp alien brother caught in an eternal acid trip. There is salvation, however. The lead single, Alive sees EOTS go all Europop. Beginning starkly similar to Walking on a Dream, sustained synth bleeps combine with a joyously warm melody. The subject matter isn’t introspective in the slightest, but who cares? It revels in a cleverly crafted pop formula, resulting in one of the finest moments of their careers.
The diversity of EOTS sound is encapsulated in the first two opening tracks. In Breakdown a simple, almost chip tune beat preludes a clamorous guitar solo under Steele screeching “I’m heading for a breakdown”, a possible reference to Nick Littlemore’s very own. The sophomore track, Lux is all sprawling Arabian cinematic soundscapes and provides a welcome antidote to the slightly irking chaos of Breakdown.
If EOTS wanted to right one wrong, it was to oust the inconsistency of Walking On A Dream and if Ice On The Dune is one thing, it’s bloody consistent. Travelling down the route of pure and polished Europop, each track contains its own unique attributes while attaining a similar vibe. DNA is irresistibly catchy, as is Celebrate, as is Awakening…. and so on and so on.. Every moment wallows in a summery goodness, even when a dramatic change of tempo is introduced as they channel Fleetwood Mac on I’ll Be Around the recipe remains irresistible as a deliciously tropical synth line melds into the incredible wide eyed muffled falsetto of Luke steels. Littlemore's quality control doesn't drop coming to the albums close, Disarm fully exploits Steele’s incredible vocal range, while the vibe is all very gospel, Lennon-like and harmonious on the closer, Keep A Watch.
Herein lies EOTS most pressing problem which in many respects is all their own doing. The ridiculous costumes and unnecessary makeup, wild conceptual stories and bizzare promotion all combine to make the duo look like has-been jokes begging for attention due to the awfulness of their music. If this music isn’t so wacky then why must their image be so odd? In many ways it detracts from the overall enjoyment of Ice on the Dune, but if Ice on the Dune does one thing right it is to provide the listener with a sonically perfect aural candy. A guilty pleasure. You know you really, really shouldn’t like it, though it soon becomes an irresistible treat.
Ice on the Dune
I'll be around