Back in 2008, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore appeared like a pair of exotic spacemen who’d seemingly teleported in from the fringes of the galaxy to spread their peace-loving utopian vision of the future. They had daft names (Emperor Steele!) and talked up their brand of globalised pop music in a way that was appealingly silly. In interviews, they’d wear full Afghan robes, exotic headdresses and alien make-up. Plus their much-hyped live show was a theatrical, colourful carnival.
The whole thing was audacious, ridiculously OTT and loads of fun, but it worked because of standout alt-pop singles like ‘Walking On A Dream’ and ‘We Are The People’, both a refreshing tonic to much of the po-faced indie of the moment. In all, it far outstripped the success of Steele (The Sleepy Jackson) and Littlemore’s (Teenager, PNAU) existing projects. But then their second album, 2013’s ‘Ice On The Dune’, was a bit uninspired.
So, is it time to restore the magic? ‘Two Vines’ features members of David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ band and Prince’s Revolution, and a guest spot from Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham. This time, they say, the album’s vision is that of a city overtaken by jungle. While that sounds interesting, the reality is that this is the sound of a band coasting.
There are redeemable moments: the hooky EDM choruses of ‘High and Low’, ‘Friends’ and ‘There’s No Need’ would be big enough to appear on an Avicci or Calvin Harris track, but the rest recycles too many sounds debuted on the first album. ‘Way to Go’, ‘Ride’ and ‘Digital Life’ all lack any cut-through potency. ‘First Crush’, the low point, is just plain naff. And Buckingham’s contribution, performing on ‘To Her Door’ is, with respect, barely noticeable.
The album was made, in part, in Hawaii. Steele would surf in the morning and retreat to the studio later on. It’s the kind of idyllic setting where days simply just pass by. Unfortunately, too many of the tracks on ‘Two Vines’ do exactly the same.