After enjoying varying levels of success in their bands The Sleepy Jackson and Pnau, Luke Steele and Nicholas Littlemore (respectively) came together in 2008 to form Empire Of The Sun and won many plaudits, and indeed, awards for their extraordinary debut album Walking On A Dream. Following on from 2013’s not-quite-as-good (but still wonderful) follow-up Ice On The Dune, the Australian super-duo are back with their third album Two Vines.
Just a few seconds into opener ‘Before’ and the signs are very good indeed; it has the same bittersweet longing as Pet Shop Boys’ often overlooked gem of the same name, Steele’s distinctive lead vocal opining “Come wash the clouds away / Can’t wait for Summer” as the gorgeously lush backing vocals come in and out.
The album’s first single, the up-tempo stomp of ‘High and Low’ sounds like a Number One single, and who knows, maybe it will be. And it still isn’t anywhere near the best song on the record – the title track is up next and could put in a reasonable claim for that accolade, but Two Vines is one of those rare albums which is so strong that, as each song appears, it sounds like a potential single and favourite track.
‘There’s No Need’ initially channels Air, or dare it be said, Daft Punk, (Steele made a fairly high profile comment about 2013’s Ice On The Dune having better songs than the mega-selling Daft Punk album ‘Random Access Memories’ from the same year), but soon turns into a lovely track that could only be Empire Of The Sun. The songs come thick and fast, many just over 3 minutes long, and none overstaying their welcome.
‘Ride’s’ insistent mantra of “Together we can / Together we can do it” is just crying out to be used in a feel-good advert, while ‘Digital Life’ takes the album on a sweetly melancholy turn while keeping the tune factor high.
‘ZZZ’ is the track here that reminds most of Pnau’s unexpectedly (for this writer at least) wonderful 2012 collaboration with Elton John, (a real Number One album, people!), when Littlemore briefly went back to the day job, using some of the veteran singer’s old recordings to fashion new tracks, ending up with an album roughly a hundred times better than it had any right to be.
The record ends with a potential long-shot for this year’s Christmas Number 1 – the lovely ‘To Her Door’ featuring Fleetwood Mac‘s Lindsey Buckingham.
Two Vines avoids the more eclectic, nay barmy, sounds on the second half of the debut, has better material than ‘Ice On The Dune’ and is therefore the most consistent and assured Empire Of The Sun album yet. The quality of the songs never dips for a second and the production (by the band themselves with Peter Mayes) is just superb – lush and expansive.
Empire Of The Sun have certainly made one of 2016’s greatest records.
Two Vines is released on 28th October 2016.