When Client's debut album dropped in the summer of 2003, many were quick to shout "Electroclash!" and toss the band into a box full of gimmicky opportunists and catchy-but-ephemeral club acts. However, members Kate Holmes and Sarah Blackwood are no newcomers to the scene -- their authentic backgrounds go way back before '80s revivalism, with Holmes laboring as keyboardist/programmer for Technique and '80s cult band Frazier Chorus, and Blackwood -- once hailed as the female Bernard Sumner -- singing for British chart-toppers Dubstar.
Client weren't even aware of Ladytron or Miss Kittin until the first album was finished. Friends had to politely point out the similarities. ("Uh... hey girls. Have a listen to this.") Chalk it up to a case of weird timing. Whether that timing was helpful or hurtful, it's been Client's wish ever since to be judged on their own merits. City, a continuation of the duo's dapper, minimalist pop, helps them make their case. If it won't exactly extinguish the electroclash comparisons, the album's smart, transcendent songcraft gives the duo an edge over the Fischerspooners of the day.
Typically, Client work within the most basic elements of synth pop frameworks, with slick, rhythmic simplicity and strong melodies propelled by fat analog basslines. However, City is a noticeably fleshier beast than its predecessor; the album is lush and sophisticated with hooks aplenty. From the initial, New Order-esque piano intro to "Radio" (a flip ode to boredom) to "Pornography"'s sauntering noir-pop (it's one of two tracks featuring a Libertines member on backing vocals) to the infectious album single "In It for the Money" (a cynical nod to greed a la Depeche Mode's "Everything Counts"), the sisters step things up with memorable tunes heavy on the verbal depth. And therein lies one of the elements that makes Client such a find: like Martin Gore, Blackwood pens a biting type of lyric that more often than not bridges Joy Division angst and insight, focusing on subjects like relationships and life crises with wry, brooding intent. On "It's Rock And Roll", she comments on the struggles of pop stardom with lyrics like "Is this all I'm worth / all I deserve / against a brick wall / but worth it all / a slow reward." And against the sexy sway of "Overdrive", things come full circle: Martin Gore himself contributes backing vocals to one of the album's strongest cuts, with seedy lyrics like "It's you and me / monogamy / just you and me / pornography" coloring the track with oblique sexuality.
Of course, if it's sound and style you're after, City is tight and catchy enough to be enjoyed on the purest of levels -- check out "Don't Call Me Baby", a pop gem with Abba-strength hooks. There's clearly been an effort to get City into DJ crates, as there are enough robo-grooves here for the Larry Tee legion. But it shouldn't be overlooked: with City, the girls graduate to full-fledged pop savants, any shackles of a dying scene left in the dust. With luck, this will be enough to earn them the breakthrough they deserve.