Empire of The Sun – Walking On A Dream review

Released October 3rd, 2008. Review originally published April 9th, 2009.

It’s my favourite bit of High Fidelity, one of my favourite films; first John Cusack’s hungover record shop manager turns up late for work to hear a new racket going out over his painfully elitist speakers. On asking who the perpetrators are, music retail fascist Jack Black then mischievously informs him it’s the skateboarding dweebs who’ve been making nuisances of themselves outside the store for the last few weeks. Black then buries his head in his hands, summing up his deflated sense of unfulfilled schadenfreude, saying simply: “It’s really fuckin’ good”.

I can’t begin to explain how much I wanted to unload on this record. I had practically half of this piece already written in my head before even delving beyond the over exposed title track. But now it can be revealed that after a number of listens and due consideration, I’m definitely having a Jack Black moment.

Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore are both in theory on sabbatical from The Sleepy Jackson and Pnau respectively, but the Walking On A Dream betrays their ambitions as extending way beyond the relative obscurity of those parent bands; on this evidence they may never go back (2020 Note: Steele didn’t). Not so much shaking hands with commerciality as grabbing it by the throat, their debut album is stuffed with less than oblique 80’s references and by turns is indebted to the likes of Prince, Bowie and chill out poster boys Air. Add to that sleeve art that visualises Adam Ant starring in the Never Ending Story and their galactic adventure agenda is there in all its brazen nakedness.

As well as glorifying, rather than trying to obfuscate their influences, the duo unerringly head for the drawer marked Pop and rarely fail to take listeners to this dream filled lagoon. The title track’s ubiquity still doesn’t diminish its essentialness, it’s root’s in Hall & Oates-esque blue eyed soul embossed with an attractively trippy flourish. This is a vibe which is impossible to really object to, even when Half Mast totes an overblown keyboard riff that sounds like its borrowed from the A-Team and the slightness of We Are The People is so Ibiza at sunset you can actually feel the shoreline breeze.

Unsurprisingly there’s also an occasional nod to the Avant Garde; the kitsch sixties harmonies of Delta Bay give it an odd falsetto weirdness and instrumental Country gently wafts like the best lift muzak…. ever. Time and again though we return to the daddies of this micro movement, Steele treating us to his best take on the Thin White Duke during the closer Without You, while Swordfish Hotkiss Knight techno riffs on the Purple One in shameless affectation/affection.

Were it not for the success of Oracular Spectacular there’s no doubt that Walking On A Dream would’ve been laughed out of most record company boardrooms without so much of an is-that-really-zinc-cream-you’re wearing? But the Van Wyngarden phenomenon means we no longer care about our cool lists. There’s nothing here to rival Kids, or Electric Feel, but Empire of The Sun like the new romantics before them just need your head, heart and feet, and that’s usually enough. It’s really fuckin’ good.

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