Walking on a Dream received eleven nominations at the ARIA Music Awards of 2009, winning seven, including Album of the Year. A special edition of the album, containing a bonus disc of remixes, B-sides, and unreleased tracks, was released on 20 November 2009.
The album was recorded and mixed by Peter Mayes at Soundworks Music Studio in Sydney at various times throughout 2007, with additional recording by Chris Vallejo at Linear Recording, also in Sydney. According to EMI Music Australia's website, the painting of Steele and Littlemore that comprises the album artwork was based on the iconic film posters for Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
Walking on a Dream received mixed to positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 61, based on 19 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews". Sophie Bruce of BBC Music raved that "[the duo's] talent is undoubtable and this album sounds like an instant classic", noting that "[t]his is the sound of the Noughties—electro enough without being harsh, interesting without being over-cool, quirky without being weird." Andrew Leahey of Allmusic called the album "eclectic" and wrote that the duo "find common ground between their stylistically disparate backgrounds, producing a number of songs filled with Steele's quirky pop melodies and Littlemore's hip dance sensibilities."Blender's Tyler Gray stated that "[a]coustic guitar strummed in time with dance beats, tinny vocals and tons of slap-back reverb—it's like some magical pop formula concocted long ago by aboriginal Australian shamen [sic] and parceled out ever since to INXS, Midnight Oil, Outback Steakhouse jingle makers and now this turquoise-loving duo." Martin Robinson of the NME "silly but their songs demand to be taken seriously, just like Prince, Ultravox and Bowie". He compared Empire of the Sun with MGMT, stating that "[t]he ludicrousness of 'We Are The People' and 'Walking On A Dream' doesn't stop them from being sensational. Both have sunshiny choruses which hook into your perineum and drag you upwards, with 'Walking On A Dream''s mantra of 'We are always running for the thrill of it, thrill of it' marking it as their 'Time To Pretend'."Under the Radar described the album as "a highly visual experience". Michael Cragg of musicOMH, however, felt that the album "offers little in the way of musical experimentation" and that "[m]ost of it sounds like a strange amalgam of Fleetwood Mac and MGMT, as if the latter had been transposed from the slightly grubby streets of Brooklyn to the beaches of Australia."Critics with mixed reactions largely expressed their discontent with the album's second half, particularly marked by the unsettling introduction of the fifth track, "Delta Bay". Mike Orme ofPitchfork Mediaclaimed that "few buzzes die so abruptly as in the transition of the complex, ethereal melodies of 'We Are the People' into the following cut 'Delta Bay', which sounds like 'Thriller' sung by cats, noting that although Empire tries mightily, they collapse underneath too many ideas before the record is even half over."
Christian Hoard of Rolling Stone wrote that the duo "have lots of straightforward pop chops, but they prefer to get wonky with cheesetastic, Eighties-flavored keyboards and nonsense rhymes like 'Hotdog belt donut melt/Magpie knelt by itself'", adding that the album "sounds like Europop on Special K." In a review for The Guardian, Dorian Lynskey commented, "the slick, pastel-wardrobed MOR of the title track and "We Are the People" demonstrate melodic agility and sun-dazzled charm" but that the album as a whole is "a ripe cheese, best not consumed whole." Andy Gill of The Independent opined that the songs "Walking on a Dream" and "We Are the People" "rather resemble The Beloved or Air, sharing with those duos the impression that the music just seems to have settled, like snow, around the melody."The Observer critic Alex Denney opined that "the record settles upon a cooler hue, favouring minor-key shuffles that, at their best, sound like prime Bangles cuts, but tend towards pedestrian 1980s pop hackery at their worst." Tyler Fisher of PopMatters referred to the music as a "mix of swirling analog synth, funky guitar, and basic drum beats all placed in a world of reverb that sounds like an ethereal, distant realm of sound." However she did note that while "We Are the People" "proves the duo's talent for making great music... it's just unfortunate the song bleeds into 'Delta Bay'...why would you want to do that?" Jason Treuen of Rolling Stone Australia awarded the album a positive 3.5 out of 5 and described it as "gorgeously plaintive electro-pop", commenting that "there's no denying Littlemore and Steele have touched on something beautiful and otherworldly here", but also noting that "the gold is harder to find in the record's hazy second half". Gillian Watson of The Skinny expressed that the album "emulates '70s and '80s excess" and that "[t]his lack of economy permeates the music itself, which lumbers one step shy of Daft Punk to land as dull, neutered MOR. Tacky drum beats and irritatingly nasal vocals compound the sense that this album is one that, while shooting for the heavens, utterly fails to transcend by dint of its clunky long-windedness."
The ARIA Music Awards of 2009 nominations were announced on 8 October 2009. and Empire of the Sun received more nominations than any other artist, with a total of eleven. The winners were announced on 26 November 2009.
Walking on a Dream
Album of the Year
Highest Selling Album
Best Pop Release
"Walking on a Dream"
Single of the Year
Highest Selling Single
Best Video (directed by Josh Logue)
"We Are the People"
Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun and Donnie Sloan with Peter Mayes