Release Date: Sep 21, 2018
Record label: Universal Music
Releasing debut album 'Chaleur Humaine' in her homeland of France in 2014, Christine & The Queens bubbled under as a buzzy yet largely undiscovered new pop talent for two years, before the album got its UK release in 2016, and an astonishing twelve months followed. The hottest name on everyone's lips; a highlight of every festival going; Héloïse Letissier came off tour last year as one of the most promising acts on the planet. As she returns with new album 'Chris' not that long later, the feeling is that LP2 is less a case of a quick-fire attempt to maintain and even accelerate this newfound fame; in reality, it's just the world catching up to Christine & The Queens' all-encompassing vision.
This is a deft and mind-bogglingly intelligent record - a subversive pop masterpiece - that somehow sounds effortless, too "There's a pride in my singing / The thickness of a new skin / I am done with belonging," sings Héloïse Letissier on 'Comme Si', the opening song of her decidedly swaggering second album. Accessorising short-hacked hair with billowing shirts and a whacking great love-bite on her neck, 'Chris' oozes with all the desire that her debut grappled with. As such, it's a harsher, hungrier sounding record, turning utter filth into sublime poetry atop the kind of dirty synth-work that would leave Janet Jackson producers Jerry Jam and Terry Lewis beaming with glee.
Christine and the Queens' debut album, Chaleur Humaine, announced her as a heartfelt, eloquent artist and earned her a thriving following of listeners who felt she was singing directly to -- and for -- them. Its stories of coming of age as a queer woman, such as the hit singles "St. Claude" and "Tilted," had an almost liquid tenderness that brought her identity softly into focus.
After years uncomfortable in her own skin, a chance encounter with a group of drag queens led to the birth of Christine. Through this new guise, Letissier felt more comfortable unveiling who exactly she was. With Chaleur Humaine, she was able to convey the loneliness of a woman who felt lost, constrained by society's ideas of gender. To her surprise, it's a story that captivated audiences across the world.
The Lowdown: I remember my high school English teacher staring at the class after we read Seamus Heaney's poem "Blackberry Picking", insisting that we tell him what it was about. Confused students kept giving him the wrong answer, and, sensing that everyone was too nervous to see it, to say it, I finally stuck my hand up and answered, "sex." Listening to Chris, the second album by queer French electro-pop icon Héloïse Letissier, who performs as Christine and the Queens, reminds me of that moment. Is it hinting at, yes, yes it is.
After her surprise breakthrough in 2016, Chaleur Humaine, Christine and the Queens auteur Héloïse Letissier witnessed for herself the inner workings of the music industry and suffice to say she didn't like everything that she saw. Her success exposed the institutional misogyny and Letissier is not about to let it drift by unmentioned. With her second album, she was in the perfect position to go for a full-fledged old-fashioned sell-out, but instead what we have is a doubling down on her commitment to blast an electrifying trail through the fading heart of popular music.
Christine And The Queens kind of snuck up on us a few years ago. One minute there was hypnotic dance routines and Gallic interpretations of Kanye West songs, the next minute, Héloïse Letissier was guesting on a Madonna tour and seeing her iconic video for Tilted recreated in an episode of cult US TV show Better Things. Suddenly, Letissier was a very big thing indeed.
Though French singer-songwriter Héloïse Letissier has been experimenting with androgyny for years--her band Christine and the Queens was inspired by the uninhibited exuberance of a London club’s drag queens--the cover art of her sophomore effort, Chris, is an expression of flamboyant hyper-masculinity. With hair slicked to one side like a 1950s greaser, Letissier cuts a dashing figure as the eponymous character. Unconcerned with the shackles of a binary gender system, she’s both macho and feminine throughout the album, embodying a disregard for definitions in favor of just existing as she is.
Of all the surprises that hit across the world in 2016, few (if any) were as welcome as Christine and the Queens' striking debut record Chaleur Humaine. Coming from seemingly nowhere (though the record had been steadily gathering attention in her native France since 2014), it found a welcoming home on the back of one of the most fascinating and beguiling pop singles of the decade and some remarkable multi-faceted live performances, including managing to almost single-handedly save my Glastonbury Festival the morning after the Brexit vote seemed to irreversibly crack Anglo-French relations and had me in a state of utter despair before her mercurial intervention. Two years on, and with Héloïse Letissier now as a fixture of everyday radio and television (despite being a brilliantly subversive champion for the LGBT movement, equality and the fringes of culture), her second record comes with a scrutiny that can disarm and blunt artists who seek the dirtier, more tangled side of the musical road.
Most of us have a hard time seeing people for who they really are. We reduce even those we love down to two-dimensional sketches so they fit into our lives neatly and without concern. Christine and the Queens' new album Chris is remarkable for a few reasons, but this is the one that's sticking with me: It's impossible to deny the complexity of the person at its center.
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.
M any of the best things in life are slippery. Sex is a viscous business, as is sweating it out on the dancefloor. Then there's the fluidity of all of our individual sexualities. We juggle a diesel rainbow of personas and messy feelings: lust, depression, ambition, wilfulness, to pick just four explored on this long-awaited second album by Christine and the Queens.
Christine or "Chris"? That's essentially the question at the heart of Christine and the Queens' second album. In one form or another, it's also a question that Héloïse Letissier, the French singer/songwriter/producer behind the synth-pop project, often hears as someone who identifies as pansexual. The answer tends to be complex, but Letissier doesn't attempt to clarify anything over the album's 11 tracks.