In 2002, unto the world was born Client; a wonderfully dark electroclash duo that gave us coolly delivered, emotionally sparse synth pop loaded with millenial ennui. Known only as Client A and Client B, their names and faces obscured by clever PR, they were a blank canvas on to which we could project a thousand thoughts, a cutting contrast to the excess and overwrought outpourings of those times.
But that was then and this is now. In the interim decade or so, there has been decidedly mixed fortunes. Client were, to the surprise of almost no one in the know, revealed to be Kate Holmes, from Technique, and Sara Blackwood, former Dubstar frontwoman. Celebrated as shiny indie darlings, with every Libertine and his dog lining up to collaborate, Client enjoyed an all too brief moment of commercial and fashion success before the backlash began. Facing accusations of nepotism; Kate is married to guitar band guru Alan McGee; and of anti-feminism, with their dead eye poses, characterless personas and stage outfits bordering on fetishism leaving some commentators enraged, they seemed to fizzle out as quickly as they’d banged. Enjoying more success, relatively speaking, in Germany, they left Andy Fletcher's Toasted Hawaii in 2006 signed with Berlin based Out of Line soon after. Despite the release of two albums since, they have been seemingly absent from the UK scene. Members came and went, apparently interchangeable, with various reality show contestants and indie girls-for-hire types donning rubber dresses and rebranding themselves as Client whatever, like an electro Sugababes, diluting the concept almost to farce.
Forthcoming album Authority still bears the hallmarks of the original, the cover art a strip-lit minimalist flash of doe eyed anti Barbie dolls in matching-but-not outfits inexplicably accessorised with pistols. However, what used to appear at once effortless and knowing now seems almost contrived and over staged. Client today are founding member Kate, still insisting on the Client A moniker, joined by Client N, Bristol singer-songwriter Nicole Thomas. Underneath their carefully orchestrated image, is thé music any good?
Well, in a word or three, yes, kind of; Authority is an appealing enough electro-noir outing. The backing track to overnight trips along the autobahn, it drips with Teutonic cool, each beep and whir feels carefully constructed; you can almost imagine the long nights spent perfecting it. Taken as a whole, it’s far funkier than Client’s previous output; Design is a pounding masterpiece; a Girls Aloud do Depeche Mode and much better than that combination sounds on paper. There’s a poppier feel to the album, a natural progression perhaps now that they find themselves in a musical landscape of blurred genres and crossover acts. XXX Action is the first track that Blackwood’s departure becomes really apparent, and that’s no bad thing. Whereas she was cold and detached on vocals, a partner for Holmes’ sparse synth, new girl Nicole adds a classically trained richness that lifts the digital compositions, the contrast much more interesting on the ears.
Album highlight Faith is a pleading love song dipped in acerbic techno; a perfect demonstration of the strengths of the new Client while remaining true to the original ethos. However, its undercurrent of haunting melody and the gradually building swirl of messy layered electronica towards the end acts as the tornado did for Dorothy; suddenly we’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s still undoubtedly electropop, but the latter third of Authority has a much sharper and colder edge.Artificial is an uncomfortable listen after the depth of the earlier tracks, the repetitive and heavily faux-accented delivery backed with threadbare synths jarring. It sounds much more like Client of old, perhaps truer to Holmes’ real style and continues in the same vein so much that I almost expect Carl Barat to pop up on Quarantine.
After a five year hiatus, it seems Client no longer know who they are. Authority feels like two EPs pushed together, which is almost what it is. All of the songs have their strengths; the poppier side borrows something from Ben Langmaid era La Roux, with its gently political exploration of alternative femininity backed by defiantly infectious melodies. On first listen, and in comparison, the other tracks feel emptier, but perhaps just demand a little more from the listener. The problematic aspect is that most listeners don’t want both at once, or at least not on separate tracks. With release already having been put back from April, a little more time wouldn’t have hurt, to inject a little more uniformity. The ingredients for a great album are all there; the recipe just needs a little tweaking.
Authority is released on August 25th - Buy on itunes here