Sterilised at 0 degrees Cool
“Every day/ All your public must know/ Where you are/ What you do/ ‘Cos your life is a show/ And you’re so/ Flamboyant…,” sang synthpop grandaddies the Pet Shop Boys. The two members of Client obviously wish to avoid the limelight thus satirised, even if their music is stylishly minimal and deals in the urban ennui baggage of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll posing, for they wish to be known simply as Client A and Client B. Not that their identities are any real secret to the British musical press (one’s a member of a reasonably well known group, the other the wife of a label owner, if I recall correctly), but along with their nurse/dominatrix performance outfits, the charade fits nicely into their frigid explorations of the androgynous anonymous d’aujourd’hui; pills and voyeuristic prostitution being overtly on the menu even if not always read out aloud. While the Pet Shop Boys muted the bite of their irony with euphoric chords and a melancholic soulfulness that beautifully illustrated the undeniable, paradoxical appeal of their subject, though, Client never come out from behind their stylishly sneering masks enough to connect with their audience—and without real intimacy or appeal, you’re left with a bunch of tracks showcasing protagonists both bored and vaguely repellent.
Those of you who bore witness to electroclash’s birth and death at the speed of trend will perhaps be reminded of such scene figureheads as Miss Kitten and Peaches, personalities strong enough to imprint themselves on the stylish/meaningless aesthetic; the former by delivering acidly hilarious monologues in a slinky pur, the latter by just being as outrageous as possible in a Marilyn Manson-gone-lesbian kind of way. Now, electroclash arguably has only delivered one good album amidst a flurry of glistening tunes, and that was The First Album, which involved Miss Kitten—who has now gone on to release this year’s truly great I Com. With little else surviving to form an ongoing legacy to the scene, barring a pop mainstream now arguably a little more fashion conscious/‘80s-obsessed, contemporary music has gained most from the subsequent upwelling of synthpop artists who were never doing it for trendy reasons anyway, along with a more susceptible audience. Witness the ascent of The Postal Service (well, at least until they were sued by a certain mail-delivering organisation), the appearance of Oxford-based emotional scientist trio Trademark or the more recent—and utterly stupenduous—Last Exit album by the dodgily named Junior Boys.
Synthpop’s greatest strength remains the valedictum-verifying way in which its combining of simple, purely electronic sounds with restrained, indeed arch delivery can create moments of pure emotion; the artists’ studied depiction of less somehow evoking much more in the listener. Add this to detached machine funk and you have enormous potential for music that is as seductive as it is emotionally intelligent, elegent and eloquent. Synthpop’s two main weaknesses are that its backing can easily sound dated, and that a momentarily diverting attitude is no substitute for an interesting and involving opinion.
City does have moments like the latter half of opener “Radio”, where keyboard tones resonate hauntingly against a twisting synth sheen under an urgent call and response, which embody the simple appeal of the genre with panache. Indeed, instrumentally speaking this an accomplished album, with a host of simple but hooky melodies for the dancefloor, some dirtily tactile basslines and even a little grace in the form of “The Chill of October”‘s melancholy-drenched strings and horns. However, on the terrible ‘80s football chant backing, air-raid sirens and all, of “In It for the Money”, as on much else here, the vocals of Clients A and B fall completely flat; abetted by simplistic lyrics, monotonous delivery and accents (Scottish and upperclass English) that frequently make their hackneyed lines sound like a couple of bored, unimaginative teenagers trying way too hard to be rebelliously outré, not even the appearance of The Libertines’ Pete Doherty and Carl Barat, or a certain Martin Gore (of Depeche Mode) adds much in the way of vocal personality. When your machines sound more charismatic and prettier than you do, you’re in trouble; an impression not exactly banished here by the inclusion of some alluring, if brief, instrumentals.
The saddest thing about this CD is that you probably know somebody for whom it would provide a perfect soundtrack; the party people who rejoice in their own emptiness yet seem distressed when their relationships break on the edge of their licentious cynicism. Maybe listening to this album would help them realise just why the word glamour has its roots in illusion. “Work? Why should I?”, sneers half the duo on “In It for the Money”. Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing very satisfying here when the irony tears.