This year's MGMT? Or even more...

Arriving with no little baggage courtesy of numerous tastemaker tips at the turn of the year, this debut album from Australian duo Empire Of The Sun has some hefty expectations to match.

And, on a first impressions front, ‘Walking On A Dream’ falls some way short of vindicating the various pre-release plaudits laid at its feet – it’s no bad album at all, glossy synth pop with a retro edge that’s as Supertramp and Fleetwood Mac as it is reminiscent of last year’s Mystery Jets LP, but quite what all the fuss is about is a question that remains unanswered. Everything seems so very slight – ever so pretty of superstructure, but without soul enough to connect with its audience on anything other than an aesthetic level.

But then you go away for a while, turning attentions to something entirely unrelated, and the unexpected occurs: songs from this LP bubble up and embed themselves in your brain. Doing the washing up: ‘Standing On The Shore’; changing the cat’s litter: ‘Swordfish Hotkiss Night’; stepping out the shower: the delightfully glossy title track. Catchy qualities that seemed absent after a cursory evaluation make themselves heard, loudly.

Ostensibly the duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore – the former a member of The Sleepy Jackson, the latter Pnau – the credits accompanying these ten songs reveal that there are many more cooks involved in the Empire Of The Sun creative process, and rarely does this approach spoil the proverbial broth. Some tracks wander in on funky rhythms completely out of step with the icy coolness of surrounding efforts, and these variations on a theme ensure a more-detailed second investigation opens the record up nicely.

Initial reactions put to one side, a fresh perspective is rewarded with some great modern pop songs – every one a potential single. ‘Half Mast’ is one such number, Steele’s nasally vocals (for once) not representing something of a thorn in the side of his new band’s material; elsewhere his singularly styled tones can dominate arrangements, detracting from their appeal. ‘We Are The People’ is one such track – when accompanied by just an acoustic guitar, Steele is comparable to The Kooks’ Luke Pritchard in his irritating squeal; that said, come the chorus all is forgiven as the song begins to soar, instruments swelling from the speakers majestically.

‘The World’ swirls like a pop-polished Panda Bear, all drifting drones and romantic sweeps straight from the Mercury Rev songbook (there’s even a little Jonathan Donahue in Steele’s delivery, thinking about it). ‘Tiger By My Side’ is Devo without the attention deficit disorder attitude – a sparkling number that thunders along with a post-punk punch. As for closer ‘Without You’… um… You know those ‘Best Love Album, EVER’ compilations that appear on shelves once a year just so your mum gets a Valentine’s gift from your zero-thought father? Well this album’s final track could sit pretty on any one of those affairs. And pretty is precisely what it is, albeit perhaps at a degree of mushiness too many. It also sounds like it was recorded in 1984. No later.

After further listens, ‘Walking On A Dream’ does make a case for its hype – it’s a neatly executed debut with plenty of commercial spit and polish, certainly enough to give a number of its tracks decent stabs at radio rotation. A classic of the year, though? Probably not – look for it in year-end top 40s, but don’t hold your breath for a top ten position. In short: this year’s MGMT.


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