Album Review: Empire Of The Sun
Walking On A Dream
Facts about this album:
Empire Of The Sun refer to their fans as ‘Empyreans’.
As well as his day job in Pnau, Nick Littlemore of Empire Of The Sun used to be in a band called Teenager with one Pip Brown, aka Ladyhawke.
Empire Of The Sun singer Luke Steele’s daughter is named, adorably/insanely, Sunny Tiger.
OK, let’s just spear the elephant in the room: Empire Of The Sun are really, really like MGMT. This Sydney duo (duo!) have arrived bearing blissful psych-pop with visions of a New World Order Of Shagging For Peace siphoned directly from the Wesleyan College acid pool. You get the same nasal vocals and, right from opener ‘Standing On The Shore’, the hippy dribble flows freely too: “The future’s in my hands/I hold it in my palms/Engrave it in the leylines running/Right down her arms”.
When acts score big, labels rush to present similar acts in their wake and Virgin are clearly showing off the ‘new MGMT’. Publicity shots show Empire’s Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore dressed as a Chinese space-wizard and Lando Calrissian’s bowling partner respectively. Such psychedelic homoeroticism continues in the video for new single ‘We Are The People’, where the boys throw mystical shapes in the jungle and sing about “A force running in every boy and girl” with the result looking like MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel’ video recreated by French and Saunders.
Which is where we can begin to separate the two: Empire are funnier.
Daring to look silly is a fine quality in a musician, mind. Bowie, Iggy, even Slade took the risk and triumphed, and Empire could pull it off too – if your songs are good enough, no-one will call you a dick. The ludicrousness of ‘We Are The People’ and ‘Walking On A Dream’ doesn’t stop them from being sensational. Both have sunshiny choruses which hook into your perineum and drag you upwards, with ‘Walking On A Dream’’s mantra of “We are always running for the thrill
of it, thrill of it” marking it as their ‘Time To Pretend’.
This is no hopping on the tie-dyed bandwagon, though: Steele is the talented and temperamental frontman of The Sleepy Jackson, the Aussie alt.rock group whose 2003 album ‘Lovers’ provides the template for Empire: seductive melodies, memorable hooks and (pre-VanWyngarden!) those ethereal vocals. Littlemore is a member of Pnau, whose trippy tribal pop also feeds directly into this side-project. Together, they’ve written an inspired succession of songs which transcend any marketing angle and whose musical origins precede MGMT. So there.
If both occupy the same island, Empire are on the side with the hot springs. ‘Standing On The Shore’ conjures up a beach party where Hall & Oates play volleyball against David Byrne and James Murphy. ‘Half Mast’ is a Balearic dream with a sublime chorus that simply goes, “Oh, oh, honey I need you ’round, I know”. When the sun sets, spaceships light up the sky and Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack echoes across ‘The World’, a meditation on that whole death thing which still manages to sound like The Thin White Duke in a good mood. Indeed you could call the whole album ‘‘Low’ By The Sea’, such is its warm take on surrealist grandeur; ‘Tiger By My Side’ is both disturbing and dancey and ‘Without You’ is a Bowie-esque tragedy referencing ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Vienna’.
And that’s the thing with Empire Of The Sun: they’re silly but their songs demand to be taken seriously, just like Prince, Ultravox and Bowie. And yes, they’re like MGMT – in that they’re great.
DID YOU KNOW:
The band refer to their fans as ‘Empyreans’.
As well as his day job in Pnau, Nick Littlemore used to be in a band called Teenager with one Pip Brown, aka Ladyhawke.
Luke Steele’s daughter is named, adorably/insanely, Sunny Tiger.