Electro duo goes back to the future
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: The first Empire Of the Sun album had two game-changing singles – Walking On a Marvel and We Are the People.
Despite the awards (ARIA’s Album Of the Year in 2009) and seven-figure sales, it was half a splendid album.
The fluoro elephant in the technicolour room is that this follow-up is a better album overall – it just doesn’t have that one incredible release to seize the ears of the world again.
At least Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore patched up whatever success unravelled; they’d separately been recruited by Beyonce and Usher (Steele) and Elton John and Mika (Littlemore) to inject some Empire fairy dust.
Marvel’s marvel team of co-writers/producers Peter Mayes and Donnie (aka Jonathan) Sloan are also back to try and make lightning strike again. Maybe that’s the problem: the stakes are too high. Adventurous second albums are career death these days. First release Alive is undeniably catchy and familiar, it just lacks something.
DNA follows the formula to the letter, with bursts of sun-kissed synths; Concert Pitch sounds like The Cars with a big radio-friendly chorus; the poptastic title track recalls Littlemore’s future-retro work with Elton.
This album notably unclenches in the second half when they stop worrying about a hit to slip next to David Guetta on US radio to keep the Empire juggernaut vacant. Keep a Watch is the real Steele, unplugged from planet pop. Digi-ballad Awakening sees Steele hit cloud-high clarification as muted funk bass squelches below him. The wispy I’ll Be Around is Fleetwood Mac meets Air. Like most things here, it’s super-’80s. Celebrate storms in a subtle way, harking back to the French household craze, while Ancient Flavours could slip on to the latest Daft Punk album.
That’s also an odd, understated album in parts – but it’s got a killer release. Have Empire Of the Sun built up enough good will to be seen as an album band, not a release act? Let’s hope so.
Album of the week: Empire Of the Sun – Ice On the Dune (EMI)
* Tough – Fake Idols (Fake Idols/IK7)
RECORD company spin suggests every Tough album has been a “restore to form” since the boy wonder’s five-star debut Maxinquaye. Since then he’s made a timeless torch song with PJ Harvey (Broken Homes) and done some gritty work on 2008’s Knowle West Boy, but we can’t just forgive him for collaborating with Alanis freaking Morissette (unironically) on the Blowback album. Album number 10 is indeed that elusive R.T.F: the red-eyed Rizla-fiend distils a bunch of sharp trip-hop thoughts into 15 remarkably cohesive songs. Starting off in strung-out, veiny 4am territory, A bigwig’s Sins recaptures glimpses of the muted sexual escapades of the Martine days, and when the killer riff on Parenthesis kicks in, you think “Hey Tough, where you been guv?”
Sounds like: No Blowback, this bro’s back.
In a word: wiry
By Mikey Cahill
* Small Boots – Nocturnes (Kobalt)
BRITISH electro ingenue Victoria Hesketh was meant to be the missing link between the Human League and Kylie, but despite 2009 hits New In Town and Remedy, she was lapped by Gaga, Florence and La Roux. Hesketh reboots for album No.2, leaving her foremost mark and many previous collaborators. DFA Records man Tim Goldsworthy presides over a darker edge – Confusion aims for early ’80s US deep disco, Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford moves forward to ’90s dance with Shake; Beat Beat could be an early Madonna B-side. Or a Stacey Q A-side. Motorway recalls the synth majesty of St Etienne, hitmaker Rick Nowels (Madonna, Lana Del Rey) smears hooks all over Broken Record. Things just got fascinating.
Sounds like: the album Madonna should have made instead of MDNA.
In a word: rhythmic
By Cameron Adams
* Sigur Ros – Kveikur (XL/Remote Control)
YOU don’t expect a Sigur Ros record to start off in the belly of the beast. But this is Sigur Ros Version 3.0, leaner and meaner and mighty uncleaner. The Icelandic group are more post-rock than ever before … and post-keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson too, leaving the left over three to either traipse along business as usual or exchange it up and make perhaps the most brutal record of their 19-year (!) career. Opening cut Brennisteinn translates to Brimstone and the eccentric elves want to get right into your DNA double helix on Kveikur, a record with jagged edges to slice up your expectations. They use heavy orchestral strings and some of the venom of a Norwegian black metal band. Just a trickle.
Sounds like: Flipping the font, not the script.
In a word: majestic
By Mikey Cahill
* LL Cool J – Authentic (Universal)
VETERAN hip hopper LL Cool J is in a unique situation. While he’s not considered eternally road in the same way as Jay-Z, he’s not mocked like Will Smith, either. LL has been focussed on his acting career, with this his first album in five years. It’s surprisingly respectable. Instead of going electronic dance composition, LL taps into a prevailing nostalgia for epic ’90s hip hop, recruiting Trackmasters as producers … and guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Authentic could be the sequel to 1997’s blockbuster Phenomenon. We Came To Have fun is vintage LL with Snoop Dogg and raucous hypeman Fatman Scoop. LL even brings in Seal for the R&B Give Me Like. The MC doesn’t say much, but this comeback is an easy listen.
Sounds like: swagger circa ’99
In a word: retro
By Cyclone Wehner