After experiencing a worldwide hit with the title track of their 2009 album, Walking on a Dream, Empire of the Sun did the sensible thing and made a follow-up album that capitalizes on the glossy, sunny pop of that song. Instead of exploring some of the more esoteric avenues they started down on their debut, on Ice on the Dune the duo of Nick Littlemore and Luke Steele focus with laser-sharp intensity on creating an album that is 110 percent POP with no sharp edges and all glittering sunshine, blown out to gigantic proportions. In less skilled hands, such a tactic could lead to an over-produced trinket that's good for maybe half a listen and then gets tossed aside. Instead, Ice on the Dune ends up being everything a good modern pop record should be, and then some. The songs have super-sharp choruses, incessantly listenable arrangements built on acoustic, electric, and programmed instruments, and icy-cold but immediate beats, sometimes sounding like Katy Perry produced by Jeff Lynne, sometimes sounding like ELO produced by Katy Perry. Everything feels like a radio hit; everything feels custom made for listeners who like the sound of modern pop but are put off by the surfacy distractions that come along with it. Here you only have to deal with crazy headgear (check the cover) and the OTT ballad that ends the album in an overwrought splash of powdery tears. Otherwise, it's all perfectly crafted songs that draw on disco influences ("Old Flavours"), soft rock ("Ice on the Dune"), throbbing Madonna-inspired club jams ("Celebrate"), and Daft Punk ("Awakening"), along with a couple that give "Walking on a Dream" a fair run in the catchiness stakes ("Alive" and the incredibly bouncy and fun "Surround Sound"). Too many times having a big hit can send a group off the rails as it pursues the spotlight and tries to catch lightning again. The guys in Empire of the Sun manage to not only catch the lightning again, but their skill at crafting perfect pop, the depth in their songs, and the emotion their voices transmit make this record better than one might have ever expected. Modern pop doesn't get any better than this.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra