The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


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

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.