September – Chris

Yes, I’m late, but it’s worth it, I hope. This album is the first artist to land a second AOTM, and after the effect the first had on all of us, it seemed almost too obvious to revisit it when there’s so much other music around. However, it’s actually a choice that makes so much sense, because really, there’s a definitive break from the past, and perhaps the appearance of one of the most exciting pop music artists for a long while.

So, what did we learn from Christine And The Queens’ sparkling debut in 2016? An album that was a spring sleeper hit (two years after it surfaced in France), relaunched in a post-Brexit haze where we all needed some musical escapism. In my case, I was one of those wandering around in a teary, beery, existentialist haze at Glastonbury whose day was transformed by one of those ‘moments’ that makes the festival so magical. Christine And The Queens’ set on the Other Stage as the rain fell was one that’ll stay long in the memory. There’s no way a French artist complete with slickly choreographed dancers should’ve melted muddy hearts but Tilted, iT, Narcissus Is Back and Here were pop music of the absolute finest. Rubbery synths, crisp percussion, and beguiling vocals singing about love and loss that sounded as enticing in English as in French. A star was born. But… what next?

The answer, flippantly, would be ‘Chris’. But for Héloïse Letissier it was more than just a change of title. The relentless touring and punishing nightly dance moves had transformed her into a leaner being, and with her success came sexual conquests too, but not man or woman, more whichever took her fancy. Pansexuality, freedom and inspiration. Yet the sonic inspiration for Chris – ‘Christine’s androgynous, confident, male-world-view alter-ego – harks back to the 80s and 90s, where r’n’b was in a renaissance with Michael and Janet Jackson at the fore. You can almost hear the Jam and Lewis influence in tracks like Girlfriend and Doesn’t Matter. But it’s original, punchy hooks and oblique lyrical references that are all her own rather than borrowed from the past, as she explores pansexual conquests from the side of the male gaze.

The result is an album that feels it could only be made by a French artist, such is the ambition, and openly artistic musings that would be sniffed at in England. A staggeringly individual collection of songs where Letissier writes, performs and produces almost every single note, and that should fire her even higher into the pop firmament. Fantastique!

7 comments

  1. David Allison

    To say I’ve been looking forward to this is an understatement. I don’t think there’s an album I’ve played more in the last 2 years than Chaleur Humaine. Expectations were raised further when she released ‘Girlfriend’, which is SURELY the song of the year? I mean, WHAT A TUNE.

    Anyway. Then I heard a couple of other songs, and I started to wonder if it all felt a bit clean and maybe even too poppy and 80s influenced. I had the same feeling the first couple of times I listened to ‘Chris’. That feeling soon disappeared, as each song began to reveal itself with every repeated listen – and very soon, it became obvious than ‘Chris’ is in every way a worthy successor to ‘Chaleur Humaine’.

    What is Heloise Letissier doing that no one else is? Two things, I think. One is she is writing better pop songs than anyone else in the whole industry right now. I mean, they are MAJESTIC. There are at least 5 stone cold classics on here – It Doesn’t Matter, Girlfriend, 5 Dollars , What Must a Woman Do and Goya Soda could all be singles and every one of them would be a hit. I can think of only of Robyn in her prime, or Kylie and her songwriters in her Can’t Get You Out My Head heyday. And of course, Christine feels SO much more subversive than either of those, because you can feel her playing around with the form, and with the whole idea of who she is.

    That brings me onto the second thing she’s doing better than anyone else: AMBITION. She has so much. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is untouchable. Make a Michael Jackson song that sounds almost better than most of his? Girlfriend, there you go. Reach for the big beasts of 80s pop – Jacko’s sis Janet, Madonna – and as Guy says, the whole Jam and Lewis throughout. She is an A list talent making A list pop music, in an era when it’s so thin on the ground.

    I have to listen to Capital in the car quite a lot with the kids. It’s fucking SHITE. Of course I sound like an old dad – and hey, I accept my fate – but the laziness of most chart pop is astonishing. Mostly they don’t even bother with a chorus. It’s just the same refrain as the verse, but with some lazy ass twist on it. It all meanders along with its tired Grime meets Latin Pop sequencing. And then, for a while, Girlfriend was on the Capital playlist. It stood out like a pearl amongst swines. Even the kids and I could agree – it was a belter. That’s what great pop’s supposed to do, right? Be so good, you just can’t deny its power.

    Vive Christine! Vive Les Reines!

  2. misterstory

    Quick one from me as I am pushed between meetings and shiz. But I wanted to add to the chat. Firstly, thank you Guy. Great album. Look, I agree with everything that David has just said very eloquently. I think there is a lot of shit ‘pop’ music out there. I think there is a good chunk of ‘good’ pop music but agree there is little great pop music. There is even less artists making proper albums of great pop music. Anyone can bang out a single but to write an album of this consistency is rare. Forget the stand out singles, the album tracks are awesome too. It all hangs together.

    My only issue with this one is the repetition of alternative tracks on different album formats – what I can’t tell is – what is the album that Heloise would have put out? What would be the tracks and their order. There are so many different versions of this that there seems to be no ‘true version’ of this album. I cant tell when the album is on repeat or if I’m into the alternative versions. What’s the track DNA of this album. I am finding this frustrating and if I am honest, I find it a miss-step which prevents this being perfect!

  3. whyohwhyohwhy

    Great responses brothers. I couldn’t agree any more with you David, if I tried. It’s pop genius, and the sort that we rarely see. I just wonder how much it will actually translate to success and sales, when it almost feels too clever (and ‘French’) for many of the kids. Who knows? (I don’t, I’m 43).

    I hope it’s a huge success. It’s just so perfectly put together.

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