Empire Of The Sun – the ultra-campy collaboration between Australians Luke Steele, songwriter of cult band The Sleepy Jackson, and Nick Littlemore, frontman of dancefloor patriarchs PNAU – return once more with another daubing of delicious Dionysian pop.
Known for their lavish costumes and stages shows, and their melding of high art with diva falsettos and brazen pop beats, they truly are a bang up-to-date antipodean Pet Shop Boys, as lazy as it is to observe that. ‘Two Vines’, their 3rd album over a stretch of 9 years, sees the duo in as fine form as ever. The album is laced with a seamless luxuriance from beginning to end, and is packed with some of their strongest songs to date.
After an indifferent opener in ‘Before’, the band boldly get to business with the brilliant lead single ‘High And Low’, which arrests as soon as it starts. The exotic title track is more languid but no less lush, with a dazed, droning quality. Steele’s oily baritone oozes like an unctuous rainforest as the song swelters like the steamiest of jungle saunas. There are a handful of other choice cuts, almost all within the confines of the first six tracks. ‘Friends’ is full of fight, Way To Go bounces along with sighing reflectiveness and There’s No Need pangs with a searing hi-energy melancholy.
Sad to say, but the second half does suffer from a shortage of memorable tunes. It pounds on pleasantly enough but without quite the same electricity as the songs that featured earlier. ‘Ride’ is repetitive, ‘Digital Life’ is dull, ‘First Crush’ is merely fair and the title of ‘Zzz’ says it all. Final song ‘To Her Door’ is something of a last minute salvage with Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsay Buckingham stepping in to save the day. Dreamy, rustic, longing and with classy, crystalline chordings, it could have easily slotted on Tango In The Night, perhaps as a vehicle for Christine McVie. Save for the slackening of inspiration in the second half, Two Vines contains many a pop gem and counts as another sumptuous serve from these ostentatious Ozzies.