Héloïse Letissier has always struggled to define her identity. A French artist drawn to London’s drag scene, she started to blur the lines after those heady nights in Soho, re-defining her pent up feelings as Christine, an amorphous figure drawn to pop in its most alien, most creative forms.
Debut album ‘Chaleur Humaine’ was a stunning first blast, with its English translation becoming a huge word of mouth success. Extensive touring followed, before Héloïse was forced to look internally once more, pitting the many facets of her creative identity against one another. ‘Chris’ was recorded in two different languages at the same time, yet its stunning creative feats are perhaps overshadowed by the physical immediacy of the songwriting, embodying an 80s style machine funk that lusts, kisses, snarls, and grabs the listener at every turn.
A truly vital, very special release, ‘Chris’ plunges into action with ‘Comme si’ before hitting hard with the Dâm-Funk collaboration ‘Girlfriend’, perhaps the most erotic pop cut Prince forgot to write. ‘Doesn’t matter’ is so nonchalant in its heartbreak, the stabbing 80s arrangement an inverse of Stock-Aitken-Waterman, finding humanity and longing in its brusk digital maze.
‘5 dollars’ brings the tempo down a notch, reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s ballad work, a strikingly simple allied to a yearning, bleeding vocal from Héloïse. Indeed, amid the bubbling electronics and 80s pop reference points you often lose sight of just how potent this French vocalist can be.
‘Goya soya’ is practically a showcase for her incredible ability, the overlapping melodies building up into a magnificent choral effect. ‘Damn (what must a woman do)’ feels like a proto-techno jammer, removing the dystopian feel of Derrick May for something more playful, and also more empowering. ‘What’s-her-face’ is dominated by love lost, a pained, stark, at times almost haunted song, the electronics switching from club impact to intense paranoia.
‘Make Some Sense’ feels weightless, the defy arrangement sitting in stark opposition to the pleading openness of the vocal, so tender, but never frail, always in control. The album comes to a close with ‘The stranger’, the throbbing synths set against that slight harpsichord feel in the keyboards.
Matching complexity of arrangement to immediacy of execution the song might well be the most impressive on the album – a superb, ever-evolving piece that pits melodic dexterity against nuanced songwriting, nailing that balance between pop simplicity and daring sonic complexity.
A breathless, breathtaking achievement, ‘Chris’ is a fascinating, infectious, endlessly suggestive work, an ode to 80s pop bombast that uses those splinters to build and then de-construct countless glimpses of Héloïse Letissier. Somewhere in amongst these myriad of definitions is Christine And The Queens, a shape-shifting pop entity perpetually aiming for something greater.
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