Empire of the Sun: new video, and a brief history of Luke Steele

by MV


The first time I saw Empire of the Sun on the BBC’s Sound of 2009 list, I got really excited. After a while, and a few glasses of wine, though, I started thinking. It’s excellent that Luke Steele is finally getting his dues, but I honestly don’t really know why. OK, the Pnau connection here has sharpened up the production values, made it all sound a bit more modern etc etc. But beyond that, is it really up to scratch? “Scratch” in this case being the best of Luke’s output as the Sleepy Jackson.

Also, what is with the neverending MGMT comparisons? I like MGMT, I like Empire of the Sun. Part of me wonders whether a lot of the hype is based around a slight misconception of why MGMT are popular. I’m happy to be corrected on this, but awesome as Luke and EotS are, do they really have any potentially chart-bothering (/indie dancefloor-bothering) tracks like ‘Kids’ or ‘Time to Pretend’? I’m not sure.

Anyway… this is aimless musing really. It’s nice that facepaint and expensive videos are working out for Luke. This is basically an opportunity to have a look at the latest EotS video, and have a glance back over the rest of the videographical career of the excellent Mr. Steele. All to be found below…

Empire of the Sun – We Are The People (2009)
So here’s the second video from EotS. If anything, this is even more traditionally Sleepy Jackson-esque than the previous single. Probably Personality-era, with a bit of a kick up the arse. But not much of one. It’s less immediately radio friendly than Walking on a Dream, and I genuinely can’t see it kickstarting any kind of stardom over here. I guess the rules have changed somewhat though, and anything could happen. I actually think it’s a good record. But let’s take a step back…

The Sleepy Jackson – Miniskirt (2000)
It’s worth noting that this is a pretty different Sleepy Jackson even from the band that ended up releasing Lovers a few years later. It’s an early track, but it captures a moment of youthful recklessness that you could argue that Luke’s yet to better. He may well be barely recognisable in the vid, but it’s still pretty much the definitive Sleepy Jackson track for me.

The Sleepy Jackson – Sunkids (2000)
The first evidence of the desire for a ludicrously OTT sound, accopanied by videos with (wannabe, at this stage) high production values, came on their self-titled EP. More like the Sleepy Jackson we came to know, this one has Flaming Lips-style woozy harmonies and a kids’ choir. It’s also excellent.

The Sleepy Jackson – Vampire Racecourse (2003)
Just to prove it wasn’t a straight path from Sunkids to Empire of the Sun, here’s a bit of a rocker from 2003’s debut album/ odds and sods collection (whichever way you look at it) Lovers. Yep, love this one too.

The Sleepy Jackson – Good Dancers (2003)
So when I heard this I actually thought it was the Beatles. What you’ve got here is a kind of #9 Dream-esque Lennon type thing going on, which in some way translates as a sublime work of beauty. And sounds relevant in this decade. Somehow. Hardly any different from the EotS stuff, if you ignore the production.

The Sleepy Jackson – Rain Falls For Wind (2003)
This isn’t a proper video, as it wasn’t a single, but it is one of my favourite songs of all time, so there you go.

The Sleepy Jackson – Come to This (2003)
I guess it’s obvious by now that 2003-vintage Luke is what does it for me. Another great track, what can I say?

The Sleepy Jackson – God Lead Your Soul (2006)
A few years away, and then what was touted back in 2006 as a potential breakthrough record. This lead single was an indication of the good and the bad of the clumsily, preposterously titled Personality (One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird) (ffs). The ambition was clearly there, but the production syrupy, overdone, too much. It’s still an album I stick on from time to time, but the scale of what Luke’s trying to do here isn’t best represented by walls of strings and reverb.

Pnau (ft. Luke Steele) – With You Forever (2007)
Another non-vid, but worth including for obvious reasons, as this is the first time Luke linked up with Pnau. It’s obvious why the collaboration was taken further: the sludge is gone, replaced by a loose, almost funky vibe that suggests tracks like ‘Miniskirt’ being dragged off to the disco. Definitely a good thing.

I hope Empire of the Sun works out, to be honest. It’s allowing the guy to get his crazy costumes out in public, and make some music that’s fun to listen to again. Whatever happens though, I’d like to see some more from the Sleepy Jackson (newly reinvigorated, perhaps?) and less idle categorising of someone as interesting as Luke.

Wow, that was a bit long…

Title image nicked from Dreadfuldan‘s flickr.