On their mixed bag of a debut, Walking on a Dream, Australian duo Empire of the Sun gave themselves room to play and express their creative, and slightly silly, ideas. The follow up is as bad as anyone could have hoped for. The story attached to this album is that the Emperor and the Prophet find a precious jewel stolen by dark forces and thus they travel once more to reclaim it.
As a metaphor it works, but the real missed-trick is that they don’t use this as a basis for their songs. Success with singles ‘We Are the People’ and ‘Walking on a Dream’ have led them to chase that all important hit single. So rather than writing an album of imaginative and explorative songs (as we know they can from their previous projects), they decide to have twelve shots at making another ‘big’ single. Sadly, none of those efforts stick.
The movie-score opener, ‘Lux’, promises levels adventure not too far removed from their movie poster album covers. ‘DNA’ appears to make good on that promise with more hooks than a pirate ship but oddly enough the lead single is actually ‘Alive‘, a song which relies on a club beat and a chorus so dull you want to not be “alive…ALIVE”.
That’s the entire blue-print of the album. They have done away with any semblance of instruments and placed sample over sample over sample. Sure there are sing-along moments to enjoy and Luke Steele sounds like a new romantic channelling Bob Geldof, but these are the kinds of songs you will hear glimpses of pumping from a passing convertible, driven by some dead-eyed consumerist pretending to ‘love’ the summer.
‘Disarm’ comes closest to submerging you in their sci-fi/fantasy world but this and the quirky beats of ‘Awakening’ are negated by the electronic conch shell honks of ‘I’ll Be Around’ before a turgid chorus of, “I’ve made up my mind/ I’ll be around for a while”. They do part ways, thankfully, with the freakily good ‘Keep a atch’, containing shades of Bowie’s space oddity and a soulful coda to show that they can craft a good song when they aren’t focused on the top 10.