The new release from Héloïse Letissier, otherwise known as Christine and the Queens, is an easy, romantic and strong progression from her first record in 2015. Letissier has described her first album, Chaleur humaine (self-titled for the English release), as romantic and “nocturnal,” and Chris immediately moves past that into the daylight, unabashed and wide-awake. The album is a tightly-packed delight from start to finish, with the familiar retro electro-pop beats from the first album infused with a stronger confidence and sense of self, coming from Letissier’s ownership of her pansexual, masculine Chris persona.
The album opens with a slightly tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, using a sound reminiscent of the Lucasfilm THX drone to signal the beginning of something cinematic and following it with a smash and a yelp of excitement, and we are dragged into the world of Chris. “Comme si” acts as a re-introduction to the fans, as Letissier sings about the connection between her and her audience, and the joy that they both can get from the music. That sunny catchiness moves into the slick synth-pop confection of “Girlfriend.” Every song on Chris, and really every song by Christine and the Queens, is an interesting listen because the lyrics are a bit of a riddle but you still know exactly what she’s singing about, without quite being able to say how you know. Letissier also writes about fairly knotty subjects but places them effortlessly into pop jams that don’t let their heavy thoughts weight them down. “Girlfriend” digs into Letissier’s examination and rejection of staid, expected gender roles in relationships—rejecting the label “girlfriend” for “lover”—while later standouts “5 Dollars” and “Damn (What Must a Woman Do)” touch on “eager and unashamed” sex work and a woman’s desire for some good, healthy sex.
“Doesn’t Matter”—or as it is more evocatively named in French, “Sun Thief”—uses its anxious energy to approach the subject of an existential crisis of sorts that results when you are in a bad personal situation and find it difficult to care about the larger things in life. “Goya Soda” is a fun, funky creative experiment—the words essentially appeared to Letissier and she then challenged herself to write a song using them—which still creates a unique visual and aural atmosphere. Letissier incorporates the imagery from Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son” to depict a personal and romantic greed and the metaphor of soda to sing about a person who you can’t quite pin down, who surrounds and slips away from you.
The album just consists of eleven tracks, and nearly all are immediately engrossing and enjoyable. There are a few slow spots throughout, with the penultimate song “Make Some Sense” close to being an outright ballad. Those do slow the energy of the album down a bit, but they are still effortlessly beautiful. The final track, “The Stranger,” is a good track to end on because of its up-tempo energy level—it’s become so familiar to end an album on a downbeat—but it is slightly less fresh than the string of successes that came during the first half of the album.
Chris is a great step forward for Christine and the Queens. The album never feels overlong or stale, and in sound it is a natural progression from Chaleur humaine, employing the same romantic, sleek electro-pop touches but with a slightly sharper sound and a stronger perspective. It is an overall exciting sign of growth for one of the most promising modern pop musicians working today.