What happens when a fun idea becomes a global pop phenomenon – Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore weren’t really ready for what followed the release of Walking On A Dream in late 2008. EMPIRE OF THE SUN was suppose to be a side-project by the two befriended Australians who both are important parts of their main bands. Steele is head of indie/alternative rock band THE SLEEPY JACKSON while Littlemore did quite well in his home country with electronic band PNAU. What first started as a local hit soon spread around the globe. The shiney electropop record and costumed protagonists caught the intention of the world that was – once more – ready to embrace shiny pop songs. And with hits like We Are The People or Walking On A Dream who could blame them? EMPIRE OF THE SUN combined a concept, catchy melodies and intelligent mainstream pop – a mixture that spread around the globe the following three years. Something nobody might have planned, at least not the two musicians.
When you look at the big picture something so spontaneous as Walking On The Dream is too unique to be copied. It’s almost like it’s not meant to happen a second time. But, well, of course Steele and Littlemore took the chance to bring EMPIRE OF THE SUN back. Almost five years later Ice On The Dune marks the return of the two Australians and it’s a pure exhibition of the duo’s surprising superstar status – a high end pop record, produced to relive the success of the debut. Of course, this brave concept is meant fail but the duo does actually quite well with the sophomore longplayer.
From the very early moments – in form of the opulent orchestral opener Lux – you can sense the pressure EMPIRE OF THE SUN had to face while recording Ice On The Dune. The first songs DNA and the single Alive are four-to-the-floor powerpop which are supposed to mark the territory of the band. The sound is bigger, fuller and more high-glossing. Especially songs like the title track or Old Favours and Celebrate seem to be highly influenced by the currently popular ‘American EDM sound’. Tender and intimate moments are rare on this record. The chilled 80s wave pop I’ll Be Around is such a welcome diversion, also the obligatory ballad album closer Keep a Watch. And clearly there is a bunch of potential hit singles on this one, but also way less ideas than on the debut. While Walking On A Dream had its weird electro funk and hippie-music moments that fit quite well with the powerful electropop, Ice On The Dune is clearly lacking of such diversion.
You can’t really blame EMPIRE OF THE SUN for sticking to the concept of their previous hit but for large parts of the new longplayer they’re just trying to hard to copy the well-known formula. It takes away the impartial easiness of the debut – and basically that’s one of the reasons that brought Steele and Littlemore the attention they deserved. Ice On The Dune makes the typical mistake of the follow-up to a successful debut album. And it’s nothing to be afraid of. Steele and Littlemore shouldn’t be afraid of anything with their concept and ability to write great pop songs – hopefully next time with a little more creative self-confidence.
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