Now you see me
French star Héloïse Letissier mixes pop and sexual politics on second album.
Christine And The Queens ★★★★ Chris BECAUSE MUSIC. CD/DL/LP
THE VIDEO for Girlfriend, the song that heralded Christine And The Queens’ second album, was inspired by Charles Clyde Ebbets’s alarming photographs of construction workers in ’30s New York, relaxing on girders suspended in the newly-scraped sky. That wasn’t the only bar raised: Girlfriend was a brilliant display of soft power and hard muscle, limber, gymnastic, gender-fluid funk that was both lover and fighter. Chris, for all its strengths and deliberate vulnerabilities, doesn’t always reprise Girlfriend’s blue-moon brilliance, but maybe it was unrealistic to expect that kind of perfection, that amount of Get Lucky good fortune, every time. Chris – the remaining syllables of Héloïse Letissier’s nom-de-pop are defiantly scribbled out on the artwork, suggesting the mercurial identities within – turns up the volume and contrast on her 2016 debut Chaleur Humaine. The name, she says, is not a character: “it’s very much me”, the complex expression of both masculine energy and female desire, her evolving pansexual identity. “There’s a pride in my singing/The thickness of a new skin/I am done with belonging,” she sings on mission statement Comme Si, and these songs work hard to carve out space for themselves. The beats are blade-sharp and bullish, the keyboards vivid and splashy, the hi-spec, topend finish making you want to run a finger along Comme Si or What’s-Her-Face, like you’re checking for dust. Prince and Michael Jackson are clearly still whispering in Letissier’s ear; she also catches the light of Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche ’85. Despite the seductive polish of their surfaces, these songs have a tension in their shoulders, an alertness to the violence lurking around every corner. 5 Dollars’ stickily sentimental vocal masks the unsparing power play within; Doesn’t Matter is full of “suicidal thoughts”, the dry, clicky machinery of somebody turning things over in their head at dawn. The atypical kaftaned chant of Goya Soda merges crimes of love and war, and while the Take My Breath Away-style grandeur of The Walker features a swollen eye, bruising, blood. It chimes with a sense of the struggle to navigate new sexual territory in a difficult world: “Some of us just had to fight/For even being looked at right,” she sings on 5 Dollars, a song that comes with melancholy fitted as standard. Letissier says she believes “in the question mark more than the answer”, but there are points here when the ambiguous becomes the indistinct; where the complex emotional spectrum these songs attempt to capture are hammered out into one shiny sonic panel, their identity blurred in a different way. Letissier is a fine pop star, and Chris is an imposing structure, one likely to dominate 2018’s skyline. There are, however, still heights left to hit.
Christine: more questions than answers.