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.