By Chad Hoyle (@chadillacgrilz)
Australian pop duo Empire of the Sun returns with their long awaited second full length LP Ice on the Dune, and I would have preferred to keep waiting. For a band adept at crafting catchy hooks and memorable singles, they seem to have a hard time creating a cohesive album.
Known for their garish stage show, complete with elaborate otherworldly costumes and backup dancers, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore have revisited the same infectious synth pop that made 2008’s Walking on a Dream a hit worldwide. However, Ice seems lacks the freshness that made Walking such a huge hit, and also lacks the concept that the band seemed to intend.
The problem with Ice on the Dune is that it’s an average album with a handful of great songs, but it’s not very ambitious, even after a 5 year hiatus between releases. In fact, the album sounds decidedly “Australian”, mirroring the trend of electro synth pop popularized down under by bands such as Cut/Copy and The Presets as early as 2004. While listening, I naturally found myself comparing each song to other popular songs that sound very similar rather than appreciating the songs for their originality. To call them rehashes would be hypercritical, but not by much.
The album opens with an ethereal instrumental track “Lux”, typical for concept albums but out of place here, since there’s no opposing bookend to tie the concept together. It’s followed by “DNA,” easily the best dance track on the album that’s likely being spun in every club in Sydney, and seems like an evolution of the sound they crafted on Walking. However, the next song “Alive,” the first single released, is an immediate regression, and could be mistaken as a track from the first album. It has the poppy, bouncy feel of “We are the People”, and like that one, sounds ready-made to back a television advertisement.
Luckily, EOTS follows that up with the highlight of the record, “Concert Pitch.” It’s just unfortunate that it borrows heavily from Cut/Copy’s first album Bright Like Neon Love, a great album yet released nearly 10 years ago. Still, this song is perfect for repeat listening and stands out from the rest of the pack by simply being different.
From there, the album continues downhill, featuring songs that sound like they could have been B sides from Walking on a Dream. The band’s obvious comfort zone involves Steele’s extended falsetto wails, crunchy bass lines, and swooning synths. The songs are catchy at times, but not very memorable or distinguishable from the rest of Empire’s catalog. In fact, since the album was produced during the near-endless tour to support Walking, the songs start to feel repetitive and tired towards the finish. “Keep a Watch” is the final song on the album and departure from this trend, but not a welcome one, since it comes across like a late-period Bowie copy.
Though it’s not a terrible album, given the level of anticipation leading up to its release, Ice is a disappointment. It begs to wonder if their outlandish live performances are attempts to offset their musical mediocrity or distractions from their lack of progression