Empire of the Sun – Ice on the Dune
From taking a look at the artwork, you might be expecting Ice on the Dune to be a little more exciting. Nick Littlemore and Luke Steel, the Aussie duo who comprise Empire of the Sun, stare out from a wintry landscape, the latter sporting Adam Ant makeup and a glinting headdress which would make Jamiroquai green with envy. Looking like a poster for a straight-to-video fantasy epic from the 80s, it’s an image that promises either progressive weirdness or unashamed, overblown cheese. Instead, we are served up a shiny dose of harmless dance music.
The five years of near constant touring precipitated by the success of 2008’s Walking on a Dream has shorn Empire of the Sun of all their quirky edges. With their sophomore effort, they’ve aimed squarely at the mainstream. It’s an approach that may produce some catchy numbers, but it’s sorely lacking in character. The heavy synths are near indistinguishable from those of Calvin Harris or David Guetta, a sound that has been appropriated by everyone from Katy Perry to Rihanna to the point of radio ubiquity.
Alive and Concert Pitch are the best tracks on the album: propulsive, sunny pop songs that sound fantastic at a beach party, but it’s a struggle to remember them 30 minutes later. The vocals are nowhere near strong enough – wispy falsettos that glide over the background, never leaving an impression.
Apparently, in line with their outlandish attire, Ice on the Dune is actually meant to revolve around a concept of a mythic struggle involving a “King of Shadows”. None of this is intelligible in the lyrics, which contain the usual quota of “fire” and “love” and telling someone to “hold on”.
The only moment that really seems in keeping with the band’s aesthetic is Lux, a minute and half instrumental that rather incongruously opens the album. With its marching drums and regal fanfare, it could be described as a self-indulgent throwaway, but at least it has some character. Katy Perry will never release anything comparable to Lux, yet it’s very easy to imagine her vocals on the proceeding 11 tracks.
In a year when dance contemporaries Daft Punk returned to the fold with a record boasting both a loving update of 70s funk and the crooning of Paul Williams, Ice on the Dune’s unwavering commitment to glossy beats seems a little pedestrian.
Ice on the Dune was released on 24th June 2013.
Watch the video for Alive here: