Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr [xrr rating=2.25/5]Empire of the Sun is that seductive stranger at the end of the bar. The one whose beauty and charisma is a devastating lure for anyone within ear (or eye) shot. After you find the nerve to approach this mysterious stranger, the initial conversation comes naturally, striking a seductive balance between innocence and sensuality. As time passes and this stranger turns into a familiar acquaintance, the zeal is lost. What started as an incendiary infatuation fades into a tedious obligation. The band’s sophomore effort, Ice On The Dune, epitomizes the notion of style outweighing substance. Comprised of frontman Luke Steele and the enigmatic Nick Littlemore, the Australian duo took North American audiences by storm at the onset of the decade with the electro-pop singles that lined 2008’s Walking on a Dream. As Steele performed their debut album across the States, Littlemore remained in Australia contemplating his next career move. This rift seems to have stunted the growth of a once promising import. After launching with a short instrumental that pulls heavily from 1970s sci-fi, “DNA” and “Alive” pick up at the exact same location where Walking On A Dream left indie partygoers three years ago. The nostalgic electro pulse strikes the appropriate cords to incite a rush of serotonin, but like a piece of over-gnawed Dubble Bubble, the enjoyment rapidly transitions into a mild irritation. The David Bowery-leaning “Surround Sound” and beat-driven “Old Flavours” showcase slightly new routes for their signature vibe, yet these efforts fail to measure up to the abilities of Steele and Littlemore. With previous dabblings in blues, alt-folk, acid-house, trance and pop, the pair possesses a skillset that greatly exceeds the strict boundaries of Ice on The Dune. Littlemore’s involvement as musical director with Cirque Du Soleil’s Zarkana might offer some answers for that conflict. Although Littlemore rarely tours with Empire of The Sun, he has been vocal about his involvement on the live aesthetics of the outfit. Music is just one ingredient of the overall concept, with the choreography, stage setup, costumes and dancers all integral parts of telling the Empire of the Sun story. As such, Ice On The Dune is less album and more soundtrack for a greater multi-sensory project. Comparing the disc to memorable concept albums like The Who’s Tommy, Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stadust and the Spiders from Mars or more contemporary albums by Arcade Fire (The Suburbs) and The Antlers (Hospice) illuminates the lack of depth within the album’s anecdotal lyricism. The title track contains a moment of introspection: “When I was young I found/ Imagine what I saw/ Secret underground/ Changed the way I see/ Lost the child inside/ He ran away from me.” However, it proceeds into sterile verses that can be found in innumerable pop hooks, such as, “Oh let’s go running away/ We can last forever/ Oh let’s go meet up again/ Just like the ice on the dune/ Oh let’s go running away.” There is no tragedy in streamlined pop beauty alone. The major missteps on Empire of the Sun’s sophomore LP derive from success-fueled laziness. This path might have been acceptable for an artificially constructed boy band, but not from a couple of musicians with as much talent as Steele and Littlemore.