The prospect of a second Empire On The Sun album seemed highly unlikely when soon after they first unleashed their unashamedly flamboyant take on 80s synth-pop, Luke Steele admitted that he hadn’t spoken to Nick Littlemore in five months.
However, after a five-year absence which saw the former contribute to records by Jay-Z, Beyonce and Usher (while the latter worked on Cirque Du Soleil production Zarkana and helped Elton John score his first UK number one album in 28 years) the kitsch Aussie duo are now back with Ice On The Dune.
As the futuristic head-dresses and wild glacial landscapes of its sci-fi cover would suggest, not much has changed in the Empire Of The Sun camp. There’s still a knowing sense of ridiculousness amongst its twelve tracks, whether it’s the opening instrumental “Lux,” which sounds like the entrance music to a particularly warped theme park, the pair’s tendency to drift from melodramatic croon to daft falsetto and back again, or the hippy philosophies which suggests the pair are trying to kick-start a third Summer of Love.
However, after admitting that they wanted “every chorus to have a zing,” Ice On The Dune is a much more streamlined affair than its predecessor, Walking On A Dream. Indeed, from the dreamy Brat Pack pop of “I’ll Be Around” to the tentative venture into EDM that is “DNA,” the duo certainly aren’t short of options when it comes to following up lead single “Alive,” a life-affirming slice of glam-pop which jumps aboard the whole YOLO bandwagon with typically joyous aplomb.
But apart from “Keep A Watch,” a melancholic Roxy Music-esque piano-pop public announcement to their fans, and “Celebrate,” which veers into the same robot-rock territory as that other theatrical electronic duo Daft Punk, the band appear so obsessed with Fleetwood Mac’s 80s era that Ice On The Dune might as well have been renamed Tango In The Night Part 2.
Empire Of The Sun’s unexpected return, therefore, might not be reinventing the wheel. But there’s unlikely to be a more hook-laden record this year.
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