It doesn’t take a degree in semiotics to work out what’s going on with the cover art to Empire Of The Sun’s debut Walking On A Dream. Otherworldly and ethereal? Check. It’s there in the space age backdrop and the references to Star Wars. Theatrical? But of course, just look at those outfits and the make-up. Pretentious? Naturelement. One of them is gazing into a crystal ball, for godsakes. Spectacular? Well, it has its moments.
Album Description Empire of the Sun's debut offering of experimental electro-pop and dance-rock is very well-timed, hitting the market just as the buzz surrounding MGMT's Oracular Spectacular has. Multi-platinum selling Australian alt-electro pioneers Empire Of The Sun (Luke Steele & Nick Littlemore) celebrate the 10th anniversary of their ARIA-award winning debut album ‘Walking On A Dream’ with the release of a limited edition vinyl on Capitol Records/EMI Music Australia. Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore deliver on that belief within the first 30 seconds of their debut album as Empire of the Sun. There's a gently striding beat, elegant guitar line and Steele’s.
Empire Of The Sun, already a Top 10 success in their native Australia, are made up of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore. The former may ring a few bells seeing as he’s the founding member of psych-rockers The Sleepy Jackson, a band whose notoriety stems more from Steele’s habit of sacking band members then it does the music. In fact, their last album – which we will refer to simply as Personality for the sake of space – was so wilfully obscure that many thought Steele had finally gone completely bonkers. Empire Of The Sun it seems is his way of indulging that more theatrical side. And in Littlemore (from little-known dance act Pnau) he seems to have (finally) found the perfect counterpoint.
Despite the eccentric artwork and elaborate outfits, Walking On A Dream offers little in the way of musical experimentation. The main touchstone is a kind of blissed-out, 1970s vibe, all sunny acoustic strums and lazy vocals in a high register. Most of it sounds like a strange amalgam of Fleetwood Mac and MGMT, as if the latter had been transposed from the slightly grubby streets of Brooklyn to the beaches of Australia. For the most part, it works a treat, the title track and We Are The People particular highlights.
Empire Of The Sun Walking On A Dream Album
Utilizing a limited palette of acoustic guitar, soft padded drums and 2009’s instrument du annee, the synth, the band manage to create breezy, melodic songs that ask for little in the way of concentration but offer ample rewards over time. Half Mast, in particular, is brilliant summer pop, a bouncy keyboard riff and a wonderful falsetto chorus could see it become this year’s festival soundtrack.
Unfortunately, the album suffers badly in its second half, the incessant hooks and melodies drying up in favour of unnecessary noodling. Delta Bay is an odd amalgam of glam rock and the Chipmunks whilst The World sounds like something you’d hear in a shop selling spiritual trinkets and tarot cards. Things are rescued somewhat by the genuinely bonkers Swordfish Hotkiss Night, which sees Steele try his hand at rapping.
Tipped by many in those ‘Big in 2009’ polls, Empire Of The Sun are an interesting prospect, and one that feels achingly ‘now’, despite the retrogressive nature of the music. With Luke Steele’s ear for melody still intact and with a foil to keep his eccentricities pretty much in check, there’s a good chance they’ll be one of this year’s sleeper hits. It’s obvious that they’ve spent a while cultivating a specific look, but they seem to have only spent half of that time on the album. Still, for the first four songs it’s difficult not to be right there with them, floating around in their spaceship, blasting out Fleetwood Mac.
The future. It once seemed like such an exciting possibility when foretold by the Human League and their synth-wielding peers. It was going to be a place where men weren't afraid to look like women, women weren't afraid to look like men and the emergence of brilliant, machine-made pop music would shatter the hegemony of the guitar.
Empire Of The Sun Walking On A Dream Album Rare
How times have changed. Electro-pop's modern descendents have evolved into a deeply conservative lot. Instead of looking boldly ahead to uncharted terrain, many acts set their sights firmly on the past in the hopes of creating a surface approximation of sounds that first came of age during Thatcher's early years. What once electrified is now the cod-New Order of Cut Copy or the slew of electro-starlets reportedly set to dominate the charts with their karaoke renditions of Annie Lennox in her crew-cut prime.
On first impression then, the Sleepy Jackson's Luke Steele and Pnau's Nick Littlemore appear to channel a more daring, forward-thinking spirit than most with their Empire of the Sun project. The two Australians do it by pilfering a name from J.G. Ballard and slathering themselves in make-up before parading around in full sci-fi/fantasy regalia - as evident by their Never Ending Story by way of Krull album art. They also claim to be creating something 'otherworldly', while citing filmmaker Alexandro Jodorowosky's surreal masterpiece, The Holy Mountain, as a key influence on their aesthetic. It's all accomplished by fusing electronic-pop with a dose of psychedliea and melodies lifted from the masters of late 70s MOR. Add these selling points up and it's not surprising that many a media outlet has declared Empire of the Sun this year's answer to MGMT.
Yet for all the band's loud ambition and technicolor theatrics, their debut, Walking On A Dream, arrives with little more than a middling gasp. For a band so intent on labelling themselves the harbingers of a new populist sound, as they've done in numerous interviews during the run-up to the album's release, the ten tracks featured here are firmly lodged within an all too familiar framework.
Like many of their contemporaries, Empire of the Sun have simply raided the 80s pantry for their musical ingredients and assumed that the perfect recipe for brilliant pop music is a rejigging of past masters and a few rose-tinted reference points. What they unfortunately end up with then is the 'Purple Rain' rehash of album closer 'Without You', or the children's show P-funk of 'Delta Bay'.
It's only the singles, 'Standing on the Shore' and 'We are the People' that find Empire of the Sun nearing their goal of creating a new strain of sunshine pop for the masses. Yet even this partial victory equates to little more than adding a solid disco beat to melodies lifted from Mick Fleetwood and co.
Is Walking On A Dream the sound of things to come then? Clearly not. Empire Of The Sun's grand ambitions are certainly worth applauding, but unfortunately they amount to nothing more than a cold and pale facsimile of the superior conquests of others who have trod these lands before.