If a-ha were to record a hybrid of Scoundrel Days and Cast in Steel, the resulting picture wouldn’t be terribly far off from Walking on a Dream. Musicologists of today like to cite strong new wave influences on bands like The Killers or MGMT, but why don’t they focus their attention towards Empire of the Sun?
In “Hot Fuss”, there isn’t much resembling new wave at all – heavy-handed mixing bogs down the guitar-driven songs, most of which resemble one another with only a few that stand out. “Oracular Spectacular” suffers a similar problem, with the standout hits receiving all the polish, and everything else seemingly tossed aside. In their defense, most of their songs are at least differentiable, and genuinely resemble new wave.
But with Walking on a Dream, the influence of synth driven anthems with only a few chords and a whole lot of melody simply shine. The hypnotic rhythms in the title track are a classic 80s twist – upbeat, in a melancholy way. Their most entrancing song, the clocklike Standing on the Shore, is enough to leave anyone in a daze. But then with that sensational transition from Half Mast to the yearning desire of conquest in We Are The People, Steele and Littlemore have succeeded in creating one of the most energized beginnings to any record.
One could argue that Depeche Mode’s “Music for the Masses” is similar in structure. Both pack an insane first punch. But the remainder of Walking on a Dream is in a league of its own. The journey from the raucous Delta Bay across the lost emptiness in Country, to the rambunctiously sexy Swordfish Hot Kiss Night, and the gripping Tiger by My Side is a journey to be remembered.
The lyrics of Walking on a Dream can either be scoffed at for being too wild and trippy for their own good, or seen as an unsung strength. The atmosphere and spontaneous album artwork certainly reflect the title. Take Standing on the Shore for example. In addition to such hazy lyrics, the music video reveals a striking inspiration for the band’s vision – the Aboriginis and their worship of the dimension known as Dream Time. When the world was seemingly nothing, the first people were those who resembled swordfish, who could look like men or women. In addition, Luke Steele’s extravagant headdress derives inspiration. It’s a great tribute, and Empire of the Sun still shows their unique style.
Walking on a Dream is just a fascinating, and well… dreamy record. The fact Luke Steele kind of looks like the Grandmaster from Thor Ragnorok is already a strong reason why anyone should give it a listen. But combined with such fantastic anthems and watery sounds, how could you not?