Is there such a thing as cold war chic? That’s how I keep hearing Client described, though I think it’s more of a reference to their album covers and videos than to their music. After all, Authority is their fifth album and it’s only the first to show the women’s faces on the cover. Previous covers have usually focused on their legs and/or torsos, but definitely never showing anything above their necks. And somehow that image became as important as their music. Although it’s not difficult to find their real names — just look them up on Wiki — they still officially go by names consisting of the word Client and a letter. Perhaps they want to be regarded as cold war spies? Of course, I do realize that when the group was first formed they went by the Client names because the women were famous for other things and didn’t want that to cloud people’s judgement of their music.
On Client’s new album, Authority, founding member Client A is joined by new vocalist Client N. And, I must say, I’m mighty impressed with her. I really didn’t think I’d go for this album, given the line up change, but the fact of the matter is that Client N actually breathes new life into the band. Or, I should say, duo? Technically, at this point they are a duo, but they’ll probably add a third member soon.
Client A’s synthesizer and programming have always been both the backbone and musical highlights of their albums and much of the time there was a certain coldness to her synth playing. It wasn’t dark enough that I’d call it darkwave. It just wasn’t the sort of sunshine and butterflies synth you get from the majority of synth pop groups. That said, she’s changed her formula quite a bit on Authority. The songs are more colorful and, yes, quite radiant. Perhaps that’s due in part to new member Client N? I just bought the album from iTunes, so I don’t have all of the credits, so I’m not sure if Client N contributed to the songwriting or the music, but clearly this is a rebirth for Client, which is probably why they went ahead and showed their faces on the album cover for the first time.
Beyond her apparent influence on the actual sound of Authority, Client N elevates the group with her upbeat if not entirely glorious vocals. She can sound a bit cold when a song calls for it, such as on the political-minded title track, but she can also sound syrupy sweet, like on “XXX Action,” a song that’s much classier than you might expect from the title. And she sounds an awful lot like Marnie from Ladytron, which I consider a very, very good thing. Mind you, I don’t think she’s trying to sound like Marnie. I think she just naturally does.
Speaking of the title track, it opens with what I assume is supposed to be a quote from a politician, which could be viewed as the duo promoting their cold war vibes: “The prime goal of government is to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority. And in order to do that, you have to fragment the majority so they really can’t get to do very much. And you have to concentrate power in the wealth of the nation.” I think it might be excerpted from a speech by a real politician because the dude saying all of that certainly sounds like a politician and a creepy one at that. To that end, the whole song seems to be about politics. There are even moments when the synth is even fairly dark during this one, unlike during much of the album. “And tonight’s our witness,” Client N sings. “Not in chains anymore.”
“Authority” is followed by the far less ominous “Desire,” which would seem to be about exactly what the title reads. Oh, it talks about “you” feeling cheated and things like that, but the chorus is fun. “Stop, shake it up, shake it up, we got the whole world baby,” sings Client N. The more I listen to the song, the more I suspect that it’s meant to be a love song between a human and a robot, the song being from the robot’s perspective. “Get a grip, get on board / C’mon, jack into my mainframe baby / You could use some slight of hand.”
If I had to pick a favorite song from the album, it would be the above-mentioned “XXX Action,” a Blondie-sounding tune that also calls to mind Erotica era Madonna. “I need action! Take me away now! I need action!” sings Clint N and it sure sounds like she’s exclaiming these things. “I need physical! / Transaction!” But the best part of the song is when she shouts out the names of various cities followed by the word action: “London / Berlin / New York / Tokyo / Beijing / Paris / Action.” Call it a veritable world tour of sex, but none of the lyrics are actually super raunchy. Those that I’ve quoted are as risque as it gets. But the way Client N sings/shouts the lyrics makes it sound urgent, like she’s demanding that someone give her some action NOW, and you don’t get so many songs like that from women in music, so the fact that she’s a woman and she doesn’t mind speaking her mind regarding sex is very refreshing. Power to her!
Other highlights include “Nocturnal Eyes,” which sounds like it could actually be a Ladytron song, the tres disco-friendly “Obsession,” and “Artificial,” which basically deems everything under the sun, including that which is in our heads, as artificial. Even pop songs.