You’d be forgiven for thinking that French artist Christine & The Queens' debut album is easy to digest. It’s melodic, crisply-produced and while it doesn’t dabble in huge chorus it does bring a certain pop sensibility that’s hard to resist. On the surface, the self-title record which is an English re-release of the French record she released almost a year ago, is your typical 2015 electro-pop record full of sparse, bouncing beats and delectable sounds but behind it lies a deeply complex mind.
That complex mind brings a stunning back story to each track on the album, giving us beautiful imagery and explicit social commentary with utter class. You could listen to Christine & The Queens and be swept away by a casual listen but digging further into reveals its true brilliance as an intelligent album that distances itself from pop simply because it’s far too dense in subject matter to be grouped with radio fodder.
“With IT, I become the death Dickinson feared,” she sings opening the album with IT. Immediately, we’re given a loaded line that refers to American poet Emily Dickinson’s notions of death which were a recurring motif of her poetry. Simultaneously, we’re introduced to Héloïse Letissier (Christine) as a deeply philosophical songwriter who is happy to give us straightforward melody but who also has something to say - a purpose for the album’s words.
“I’m a man now,” she sings in the chorus, introducing us to the album’s biggest theme - freedom. In interviews she’s detailed how the idea of being a man now is not about changing sex but rather about exploring the different things that men can do in society that women are not allowed to. Christine herself distances herself with gender. "I feel like a man in the morning but a girl in the evening. When I fall in love it is with a personality, not a gender," she eloquently told The Guardian. As such, she brings both to the album, balancing between the gentle and the strong and exploring her place in the world as a person rather than a gender.
Freedom is everything for Christine - a moniker built by Letissier as a way of escaping self-consciousness. However, that doesn’t mean that she’s not plagued by people telling her she’s not something that she believes she is. In IT she’s called a “fake” and a “liar” while in Tilted she’s proclaiming, “I am actually good, can’t help it if we’re tilted.” She ends it with, “I’m in my right place, don’t be a downer,” shutting down those doubts with that sense of freedom which also comes across by the subtly euphoric soundscape of the song.
Where she’s not exploring her place in the world, she’s detailing her place in relationships with vivid clarity. On the two most powerful relationship songs she’s joined by featured artists Tunji Ige and Perfume Genius who add to the dialogue. Over a hip-hop-tinged beat on No Harm Is Done Ige and Christine sing about leaving a failing relationship. Perfume Genius perfectly slots into the aesthetic of the album on Jonathan with a heartbreakingly gentle verse while Christine follows him with a French verse. It’s beautifully bare-boned and driven by vulnerability. “You’re never as strong as when you allow yourself to be the most vulnerable person you can be,” Christine said of the song upon its release and the pair do bring a strength to the song with their unwavering vocals and intimacy. She brings that same kind of intimate heartbreak to Paradis Perdus which in part covers Kanye West’s Heartless, breaking it down with melancholy keys and skeletal synth-work.
Going on themes alone, the album sounds like it’s incredibly dark but it’s not. Science Fiction is buoyed by characteristic synths and perky keys while Half Ladies has a certain hopefulness to it in the way she sings, “I could not care less about how my hair looks,” preceding horn-like instruments. In fact, even in the album’s heaviest lyrical moments she brings a certain positivity to the instrumentals that are part-quirky, part-euphoric.
Dancing is a huge part of Christine & The Queens’ live show as she traverses everything from hip-hop to vogueing and she expresses that in Safe And Holy. “As I dance, I’m safe and holy,” she sings over a thudding bass. Music has always been a safe haven for those who think think a little beyond the norm and as strange as Christine’s dance moves are in her videos she always looks completely comfortable accompanied by the music. People who identify with Christine as a character are less likely to think she’s weird and more likely to idolise those oddities. Maybe that’s why, despite its darkness, the album sounds free rather than depressing.
Letissier created Christine & The Queens because she wanted to be daring outside of herself and she fulfils that on her debut. If you want to dig deeper into the record, you’ll be rewarded by the discovery of a complex character who’s slightly troubled but honest and vivid in its observations. If not, then you’ve got one of the best pop albums of the year driven by a rich, textured voice and floated by beautifully produced electro-pop soundscapes.
NINE OUT OF TEN.