MARCH: Chaleur Humaine by Christine & The Queens

So this is a confusing one. Christine isn’t her real name: it’s Héloïse. And she’s not straight, but she’s not gay, or she might be, or something in between. This record was a massive hit in her native France, but that was two years ago, and then it came out in the USA, but that was a slightly different version of the album – and now it’s out in the UK, but that’s a different version from both of the previous one. She’s re-recorded some of the songs in English, but not others, and there are two new songs and two less of the old ones.

As I say, you may already be confused. And just to add to your confusion, I have a copy of the original French version (the song ‘Tilted’, for example, is ‘Christine’ in French, and the Perfume Genius song is just a bonus track). I wanted the French version as I’m currently working with Canal Plus so I’m trying to listen to as much as I can!  Anyway, I will TRY to review the English language version.

All this confusion aside, it all becomes a lot more simple when you listen to Christine AKA Heloise’s debut, in whatever language or form it comes. This isn’t the first female front bit of Euro electro pop I’ve put forward for the blog (indeed, my last offering was the wonderful Susanne Sundför), but when there’s so much good stuff out there, it seems a shame not to share it. This is an extraordinary debut, full of muscular songwriting, beautifully and tautly arranged. It doesn’t feel like a drum programme or a string quartet or a single sung note is out of place. But neither is it overly tasteful or bland. Christine is clearly a woman who’s struggled/struggling with her demons, and a cloud of longing and sadness hangs over many of the best songs (Paradis Perdus, Narcissus is Back). It’s so hard to write pop music of this quality and built with such solid foundations. Hype can be a terrible thing, but Chaleur Humaine is well worth its Pitchfork 8.0 and its Guardian 5 stars.

The only caveat for me is that, having bought the French version (a RIGHT ball ache – via Ebay from Germany!), I do think the original is actually better. Not becuase more of it is in French, but because two of the best songs (Chaleur Humaine and Ugly-Pretty) have been excised in favour of the two songs featuring guest artists. It’s an understandable move, especially considering Perfume Genius having a fanbase in the UK and USA, but actually, they’re the weakest songs. So if you get the chance to check out those two tracks, do add them to your listening experience.

French artists so rarely make a breakthrough into English speaking audiences. I know this only too well from research into the French 60s artists I’m doing at the moment. Gainsbourg barely bothered the UK or USA charts in his lifetime; Francoise Hardy has had one English language hit in her whole 50 year career. Who knows if Héloïse Letissier will succeed where they failed – but on the basis of this, she certainly deserves to.

 

7 comments

  1. whyohwhyohwhy

    Big fan of the Sunfør album, for its contrast and blend of muscle and orchestral pieces. This I’m approaching in the same way. Her voice is much more affected and ‘French’ (no bad thing) but there’s a lot of the same rubbery beats and basslines and icy vocals. That video is really fantastic too.

    Enjoying it on my 3rd listen. More to follow…

  2. nolankane706

    This has been an interesting one for me. On first listen it started very well then interest started to fall off the deeper I got into the album. On reflection I think this was because it started at pace and slowed down the further the track list decended. This over time has become less of an issue.

    The French / English thing at times makes you shake your head as you get into songs and then have a brief moment of ‘WTF, she’s singing in French?!’. Plus there’s the songs that she does in both languages to keep you on your toes…. cheeky!

    Traditionally I’ve struggled with whole bodies of music in other languages. I’ve been prone to rather enjoy one song in a collection ie. MC Solar with Jazzmatazz. I suppose this is the next step, which is starting to sit well.

    Aside from the whole French thing, this can be easily mistaken (in a good way) for the Scandinavian pop that we all tend to like.

    A month in this has found a place in my life, but as Brother Guy often references ‘I’m not sure where it will sit in the long term’.

    Good pick though, something different than my norm!

  3. misterstory

    As always, sorry for pathetically late write-up. This is no reflection of my thoughts about this album ….

    I’m a massive fan of this album. I was a massive fan of the Sunfor album too but in honesty I’ve not continued to listen to that. I have kept up my interest in this album, admittedly not for an extended period but I would very much be surprised if I was not listening to this in 12 months time.

    With respect to the French-thing, this almost doesn’t register for me. If I am honest I wasn’t 100% sure what language she was singing in until I read David’s write-up ( the song titles did help …. but I didn’t really look at them until I’d listened a number of times either). This is one of the benefits of not having any time to look up and research the music that is chosen for AOTM you do come to it very fresh. I listen to a fair amount of non-English language music so am used to taking my cues from phrasing and mood rather than lyrics … singing half of it English helps though.

    Language aside, its very obvious this is melancholic pop so I was always going to engage with it. Add a track with Perfume Genius and I am very happy. Add another track where she sounds like Twin Shadow and I am considering that this may turn out to be my AOTY? There’s loads of other influences in there too, a few tracks could almost be Sia (no bad thing from a BIG pop perspective?). A lot of the Euro-pop synth sounds bring the Knife to mind? All of this ticks so many boxes for me that it was obvious that I was going to love this.

    My only concern is that following David’s write up I now know I am not listening to the album as the artist originally intended and I am in face listening to the out-put of a marketing dude. This does sit a little uncomfortably with me so I am currently pretending that I don’t know this and am enjoying it massively too.

    As I have mentioned before, the fact that Stacey loves this and my daughter seems to really enjoy it too is massive for me. This means I get way more time to listen to it and appreciate it.

  4. whyohwhyohwhy

    This is really really good. Brother David, you’ve done it again.

    Not sure why I’ve not posted about this since. I really go love this album. The music is icy, beautiful pop music, in a way that only Europeans can do. I’d agree that the two weakest tracks are the new ones, though I really quite like the one with Tunji Ige (it’s just the rest of it is very very good), the Perfume Genius track leaves me cold and feels totally and utterly out of place. Science Fiction, Half Ladies, Narcissus Is Back…. it’s strong across the board.

    Tilted is a one of the best songs of the year. She was brilliant on Jools, and I can’t wait to see her at Glastonbury 🙂

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