Release Date: Oct 16, 2015
Record label: Atlantic / Because Music / Neon Gold
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic
Last week, two contestants on the BBC1 talent show The Voice performed a cover of Anohni’s Hope There’s Someone. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a particularly extreme or challenging piece of music – it’s a ballad with a beautiful, lambent melody and profoundly moving lyrics that address a universal theme. Nor is it a particularly obscure song.
There’s been some interesting goings-on with reaction to pop music of late. Indie types have been embracing the Fleetwood Mac-like charms of Hinds and the big bold pop of Taylor Swift’s 1989 (notably prior to Ryan Adams‘ contentious cover version). This, no doubt, has some connection to the different ways music is consumed, and in turn how that has introduced a fluidity to genre.
This accomplished synth-pop record by Parisian Héloïse Letissier has been released in various guises, not least its Francophone debut of 2014. Revamped for the US last autumn, now out here, it is both old news and a welcome opportunity to praise Letissier’s stylish, empathetic songs: bilingual, sexually fluid, influenced by R&B, hip-hop and glitchy digitals. Tunes such as Saint Claude (now in English) flirt with surface while seeking (and delivering) chaleur humaine (aka the “human warmth” of the LP’s title).
There’s a reason why Christine and the Queens is already a runaway success in Europe. Our little island has been a tad slow to catch on, but luckily enough, she has decided to release an international version of her French debut album (so, in English, basically). An overwhelming chunk of the album steps far beyond word-for-word translation; Héloïse Letissier rewriting entire songs with tweaked, adapted imagery.
The Christine and the Queens project is guided by one woman, the French synth-pop auteur Héloïse Letissier. At home she is a known quantity: She capped off a string of EPs and touring gigs with Lykke Li and Woodkid with her debut Chaleur Humaine in June of 2014. But the U.S. release this fall of Humaine, repackaged as a self-titled debut, marks her introduction to the American market: Some of the French lyrics were redone in English, accompanied by a couple of Anglophone bonus tracks.
Pop music isn’t generally a world for supporting players. Outsiders can find their place as long as they are so affirmative in their left-of-centeredness (like Lady Gaga or Grace Jones) that they attract a like-minded army to flock to them, but those for whom the limelight is not a priority are a much less familiar presence. That’s part of what makes the self-titled debut from Christine and the Queens so striking: It’s a shimmering collection of great pop songs from a magnetic performer who nonetheless seems unconcerned with being the center of attention, like a burgeoning movie star who requests to play the horny sibling or the wise older friend in a coming of age drama, rather than the lead.
Are we sluts? Are we not sluts? Just two of the slut-orientated questions posed by Christine and the Queens, the conceptually androgynous alter ego conceived by Héloïse Letissier to allow her ‘to be more daring, to be stronger, more out of the box’. In actual fact those are the only two slut-orientated questions that I am aware of her posing, but from reading about her you’d be forgiven for thinking that her sole creative interest was gender. Of course, it plays a part.