Australia’s enigmatic electro/glam pop/rock outfit released this record, ‘Ice on the Dune’, in 2013, their second record and first in five years. Named after the Steven Spielberg blockbuster of the same name, Empire of the Sun bring together all different kinds of influences into their mix; there’s a bit of David Bowie and Boy George in the theatricality, a bit of Prince in the vocals, and a bit of Eurythmics and ABC in the music itself. The group combines all of these elements into a highly infectious, nearly undeniable vibe that, quite simply, just makes the listener feel good. The soothing vibe that this group conveys is a major component to their success.
The record opens with an appropriate, concise instrumental piece called “Lux”, which perfectly paints the image that, it can be assumed, the group was hoping to paint with this record. The next two songs that follow this instrumental piece, “DNA” and “Alive” (especially “Alive”), roam about with such a prowess that, matched with an impeccable pop sensibility, are excellent pillars in realizing what this group is capable of accomplishing at the peak of their powers. These two tracks act as doppelgangers, in many ways, to “Walking on a Dream” and “We Are the People” from the group’s previous record. Even with that considered, though, the formula, when perfected, doesn’t bore or tire. In fact, as time goes on, the group seems to be even more capable of putting out these easily likable, precise pop songs. Unfortunately, this record is incapable of keeping up this level of quality throughout its full duration. This isn’t a particularly consistent record. It’s also very top-heavy. Tracks in particular, like “Old Flavours” and “Disarm” are just, in a word, dull. It’s unfortunate that it seems most of this record’s zest, flavor, and charm exists on the first half of the record. Actually, the one track on the second half of the record that seems to have any kind of character whatsoever is “I’ll Be Around”, which starts the very beginning of the second half of it.
Overall, this is certainly not a bad record. In fact, it’s pretty good. It has its moments of being quite engaging, exciting, and it’s full of charm and color when it chooses to be. The sad thing, and this is also a criticism one might make about a fellow theatrical artist like Lady Gaga, is that Empire of the Sun, for one reason or another, seem to have a very difficult time cultivating their strengths into a full-length product. Like Gaga, these guys have certain songs that are absolutely incredible and are capable of putting out good records. The trouble seems to be in their inability to keep their infectious charm and vibe pushed consistently for extended periods of time. Listeners could argue back and forth for quite some time about whether or not this is because their schtick is simply incapable of being carried out for the full duration of a record or if they just haven’t quite figured out how to properly convey themselves as a musical unit as of yet. Either way, one thing remains undeniable: Empire of the Sun are capable of pumping out some of the best pop music on the scene today. That fact isn’t up for debate, even though many other things about them certainly are.