Album Review: Christine and the Queens – Chris

Sunday, September 23, 2018

One of our biggest faults as primarily English-speaking music enthusiasts is not listening to enough foreign music. It’s no secret that there are many incredible artists out there who we don’t hear on our radio waves and rarely find neatly inserted into a Spotify-curated playlist. Despite this, get ready to hear about Christine and the Queens, moniker of French electronic musician, Héloïse Letissier, a whole lot more.

Letissier’s sophomore album, Chris, was released in both English and French — it’s up to us how we consume her music and ideas. Both have benefits and shortcomings. A personal preference of mine is not listening to foreign artists singing in English, because I hate to think that they’re assuming this language because we won’t listen to them in any other way; we should listen to foreign languages and sounds, to the way the artist performs the emotion in their lingua franca — it tastes different. On the other hand, to listen to Chris in French would be to miss all the beautiful and poignant lyricism (though listening to her strong, French accent, as lovely as it is, in English does require some lyrics to read along with to pick up on the subtleties). Pick your poison.

With her comeback, Letissier is taking on a new persona: the eponymous Chris. Fans of her first album, Chaleur Humaine (2014), and the highly stylised and choreographed videos that accompanied it, will immediately notice the androgynous transformation that was only previously hinted at with Letissier’s fashion and dancing is now complete. Chris explores this feminine masculinity or masculine femininity. It’s much less reserved and less poised than Chaleur Humaine, the songs on Chris inspire you to either get up and boogie along — particularly ‘Girlfriend’, featuring American funk musician, Dâm-Funk — or thrash around, but none will make you want to sit and ponder. This is an album with energy to exhume.

The album begins with THX’s ‘deep note’, hinting to the fact that the songs we’re about to hear all form a larger story. When Chris begins, we’re in funk territory. ‘Comme si’ and ‘Girlfriend’ will satisfy all your electronic-funk, pseudo-retro needs. ‘Comme si’ is cute and romantic, ‘Comme si on s'aimait’ she sings, ‘When you play me loud me, baby / Comme si on s'aimait / When you play me fast’. Chris is more outwardly sexual than anything else Letissier has done. ‘Fuck is me, fuck is you’ is a great exclamation from ‘Girlfriend’, which leads Letissier into the chorus, ‘Girlfriend, don’t feel like a girlfriend’. The songs here are sexual but there is no calm sultriness to them, underneath it all you can feel a sense of restlessness and violence. Similar in sentiment is ‘5 dollars’, which has a very sweet melody and vocal performance, but the lyrics hint at pain: ‘some of us just had to fight / for ever being looked at right … you’re eager and unashamed / I grieve by dying every night baby’. Accompanied by a video showing Chris — the character — dressing in bondage gear, with a crisp suit over the top, this song can inspire many interpretations of sexuality, pleasure and the grief that comes with feeling unseen.

The unique tinge in Letissier’s vocals is best heard in ‘What’s-her-face’, a vulnerable, soft song about always feeling left out and different. What makes this song feel so powerful and stripped back is its placement in the album. By now we’ve heard all the aggression, all the tension of identity, we’ve just experienced ‘Damn (what must a woman do)’— a song with a relentless beat about having sex with, well, lots of different people, ‘I’m worn out but I want some more / naked with an open door / encore, encore’. ‘What’s-her-face’ is tender, but still there is a restlessness underneath, you can almost feel the backing vocals trying to break free to the surface.

Chris is an album that doesn’t shy away from the multifaceted nature of one person’s identity. Through the persona, Chris Letissier gets to play and explore various parts of her femininity, masculinity and sexuality.

Written by Irene Bell