Five years ago, Luke Steele was fronting the Sleepy Jackson, a fondly regarded bunch of indie also-rans from Perth, Australia. Against any logic and against all odds, he’s reacquainted himself with the zeitgeist.
And he’s done it, paradoxically, by rewinding a quarter century. He’s dressed up like Kiefer Sutherland in ‘Dune’ (if Kiefer had been in that film), hooked up with a guy (Nick Littlemore of Pnau) who could have stepped out of Prince’s Revolution, and made an album that’s more Eighties than chatting to Max Headroom on CB radio.
‘Walking on a Dream’ is an airy, light, flyaway thing, the musical equivalent of a soufflé or a meringue. To make it even odder, Steele sings in a strange syllable-swallowing warble, like a male Stevie Nicks. Empire of the Sun have revived that very slender subgenre, existential FM pop – think Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” or A-Ha’s “Manhattan Skyline”. As with Gruff Rhys’s Neon Neon, you’re simultaneously unsure as to whether it’s a conceptual prank, and very sure that it doesn’t matter either way.
Pick of the album: The first narwhal: ‘Swordfish Hotkiss Night’