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Empire Of The Sun
Walking On A Dream Charles Ubaghs , February 18th, 2009 09:38

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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.

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.

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Fred Zeppelin
Feb 18, 2009 3:46pm

I've only heard the single but your review echoes my sentiments exactly. I was lying in bed with Mrs Zeppelin when this came on and we both ended up rolling our eyes in a "Christ, we've heard all this before" style and wondered whether pop has finally rolled over and died.

I'm absolutely sick and fucking tired people drooling over shite like Ladyhawke and saying, "It's just like Pat Banetar " as if that's somehow a good thing. And now the news that Duran Duran are to headline the Lovebox Weekender and that Spandau Ballet are back!

A lot of good stuff came out in and of the 80s but not this shit. As you rightly point out, 25-30 years ago, music was being pushed forward. As Talking Heads once said, ""Say something once, why say it again?" Why indeed?

Empire of the Sun strike me as hideously contrived retrograde step backwards and as such make me want to puke. What next? Coal not Dole badges?

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Mark Eglinton
Feb 18, 2009 9:28pm

spot on good sir, spot on

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Laurence Davison
Feb 19, 2009 1:10am which I would just like to add, "it's the bloke from fucking Pnau - what else would you expect?"

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amauta ciriachi
Feb 19, 2009 3:18pm

I agree with Fred Zeppelin (about Empire of the Sun and Ladyhawke!! Jesus..) Luke Steele was great with The Sleepy Jackson though and "Lovers" was a brilliant album..

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duran dman
Feb 20, 2009 1:37am

they're crap.

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Meta Pathos
Oct 15, 2009 5:58pm

I'm not feeling quite as harshly towards Empire as yourself and a few of the rsponders here. I will agree that 'Standing on the Shore' and 'We are the People' are the two strongest tracks on the album and they profoundly grabbed me upon initially hearing them. I could really give two craps whether they are borrowing from this or stealing from that, even with comparisons to MGMTT, I really haven't heard anything that sounds like this for several years or recently. It's a fresh and interesting approach in my book and the only other artist I've heard as of late taking such crazy aesthetic chances with their presentation while still keeping the tracks well produced and commercially viable may be Fever Ray.

However, I am concerned that this may be a brief flash in the pan, if they've used up the full energy and creativity of what they were going for on two killer singles but really can't run this concept any further, they may end up looking more ridiculous and pretentious in retrospect, for not following through on their lofty dramatic approach and self-deifying proclamations. I would like to think they'll do something cool and quirky with a follow up but I could just as well see this being a one shot concept album.

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Jun 18, 2010 3:51pm

You suck whoever wrote the last paragraph

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May 15, 2011 10:19pm

I was born in the middle if the 90s and have grown up in a crap generation of 2000s music industry. The 80s are what I love; I wish this style had carried on so much more into my generation. I thought it would never change until I heard of Empire of the Sun.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Empire has got to be the best thing that has happened to the music industry in YEARS.
Yes I do know what music is. I don't fall for Lady Gaga being an inspirer and Wiz Khalifa being a role model.

Empire of the Sun has sprouted from 80s seeds into an electropop, synthetic psychedelia.

I agree with those who believe We Are the People and Standing On the Shore are 2 of their success pieces. Walking On a Dream is perhaps the top success followed by We Are the People and then Standing On the Shore. Half Mast is fourth best, then there's Swordfish Hotkiss Night and Breakdown. They're something truly interesting. Delta Bay is a tad bit raspy but it still works.

Luke Steele's charisma only adds to Empire; he's a rare blend of Kiwi and Russian, really a sweetheart and has a special humor. He's talented as defined by The Sleepy Jackson and knows how to work in the music business very well. He can put on a good show in local Perth bars AND tour the world with out-of-this-world performances with Empire. His voice too; no one else has one like it.

And Nick Littlemore is crazy! His work with the unique Ladyhawke is just great, and his Pnau work is web better. Listen to Embrace and you'll see. And his lyrics are gorgeous. The latest Pnau record, Soft Universe, will be out soon. It's gonna be more dramatic and emotional because of Nick's breakup with his girlfriend that he's been with for years, also some of the tracks are co-written by Elton John. Nick's also been working on the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil's Zakarena!!

In 2009 Nick took a break from the band because of Empire starting to tour. He said that the band wasnt ready to do so, and I agree. Since Walking On a Dream is like one story, they should've have waited on the touring and finished more music videos for the songs. They were supposed to flow together in that way. But the record company enforced it anyway; Empire went on to tour and without Nick. Luke stuck with it though to keep Empire going. Witjout him it might have never lasted as long as it has now.

Everyone thought Nick left because Luke was some bastard and try fought, but that's really not what happened. They've both said it's not what happened. Anyways. Nick returned by the end of 2010 and have already written more tracks together.

Luke and Nick have such great chemistry in the means of creating music, and with Donnie Sloan and Peter Mayes they've created the answer to modern day 80s.

They have great potential- I'm dying to hear what te second album will sound like.

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