Friday, 28 June 2013

Empire Of The Sun - Ice On The Dune

When Empire of the Sun first burst onto the scene a couple of years ago it was hard to know what to make of the Australian duo. Despite being named after JG Ballard’s traumatic account of his time as a child during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, Luke Steele from dopey, indie posse The Sleepy Jackson and his comrade in kitsch Nick Littlemore’s catchy fusion of eighties pop and summery anthems made them a surprise success story, going double platinum back home and cracked the top twenty over here whilst producing two massive hits in the form of ‘Walking on a Dream’ and ‘We are the People’.

Once again kitted out like Elton John role-playing Final Fantasy, their goal is still to provide the soundtrack to your summer but whereas their debut balanced the duo’s theatrical stylings against economical pop smarts, Ice on the Dune collapses under the weight of slick, shiny but soulless electro-pop. In the last three years pop music has moved away from Lady Gaga’s eighties revival and into the suffocating grasp of EDM and in pursuit of a smash successor to their radical debut Empire of the Sun have decided that they want a piece of the pie.

The sickeningly gaudy curtain raiser ‘Lux’ is as clear a manifesto as you could need: dense, shiny production, four to the floor beats and synthesised strings dominate on a record that plays like the worst wedding disco mix.

There are still hints at great ideas buried beneath the surface: the Michael Jackson meets Royksopp stomp of ‘Awakening’ and sing-along single ‘Alive’ stand out, but even the more experimental tracks like ‘Concert Pitch’, a slightly warped banger that sounds like MGMT cutting it up on the dancefloor, tend to be smothered in a glossy sheen of hairspray and production gloss. Closer ‘Keep A Watch’ seeks the drama of Berlin period Bowie but has to settle for one of the Scissor Sisters more insipid ballads whilst ‘Old Flavours’ and ‘Celebrate’ are straight up pop club bangers with distant echoing vocals.

For a duo prone to indulging their penchant for raiding the dressing up box there’s little wit or humour to Ice on the Dune. It aspires so transparently to reach a large audience yet sacrifices any reason for that audience to engage with the material in anything other than a superficial fashion and in the process strips Empire of the Sun of the humour, wit and wide-eyed wonder that made them a success in the first place. The majesty of a mighty empire makes those that look upon it tremble but it’s much easier to root for a rebel.


Max Sefton

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