Arling & Cameron

We Are A&C (Emperor Norton)

Are you an Arling & Cameron fan? Not yet? You will be. Everyone will be, in due time. The Dutch duo's pop proficiency, prolificacy and promiscuity ensure that global product saturation, with concomitant universal acceptance, is inevitable. Hey, their 1999 song "Voulez-Vous" was played on The Sopranos (as A&C never tire of telling interviewers), so they must be cool.

Last year's Music for Imaginary Films captured critical attention initially but made nobody's Top 10 list. As an exercise in conjuring stories rather than telling them, the album jumped genres and time periods with impressive scope. It was funny and catchy, but you can listen to the theme for a TV show about a drug-sniffing dog named Hashi only so many times before you question your gullibility.

We Are A&C is far better. Its scope is just as broad, but instead of concerning themselves with advertising kitsch, A&C set out to make the ultimate pop album. Jumping genres and bending genders to suggest a globalized no-identity, the songs prefer a future-retro sound heavy on '80s new wave. The cover's plasticized portrait of the duo, the Kraftwerky tech-pop of "5th Dimension," the mechanical recitation of "We are A&C" in the title track and the perverse duet of "Dirty Robot" conjure an image of A&C as cyborgs -- part human, part studio electronics.

Declaring themselves "two fruits from a musical tree" and turning vocals over to the ladies for half the songs, A&C even allow their sexual identity to blur in the studio process. The last song's idiotic lyrics, "Don't you fucking fuck with me!" send up riot-grrl bands, and "Freedom, Right Now" is a gift to anyone who ever went through a phase in which Lene Lovich's Stateless was the only album in the world. Questions of "authentic" identity disintegrate in A&C's (and, by implication, any) studio, in which the human voice -- natural or synthetic -- is just another tool in the pop-creation machine. The album's few missteps -- the P-Funkish quiet storm of "Love & Understanding," the Austin Powers schlock of "Can You Pah-Pah?" -- depart from the Kraftwerk-to-synth-pop lineage. The rest is a monster party in the Matrix. Plug yourself in!