‘Unique’ is an oft-overused piece of hyperbole in the music world. However, if anyone is, it is Héloïse Letissier. Announcing herself to the world as Christine and the Queens with 2014’s Chaleur Humaine, her strand of intelligent pop music wow’ed both the critical and commercial world. Taking her time with a follow-up, she now returns with Chris, named after her new alter-ego. After briefly working with Damon Albarn and Mark Ronson, Letissier herself took sole control of the production (no mean feat in a heavily male-oriented business). In doing so, she has doubled down on everything that made her debut so great, and advances into new levels.
Opener ‘Comme si’ possesses the familiar 80s-tinge that seems to run through every pop strand at present, though it is the worlds of Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones that Chris is most in thrall to. Her uniquely (that word again) Franglish delivery is working at double-speed, cramming in words and sentences at a frantic rate – adding in an eccentric stutter during the funky early highlight ‘Girlfriend’ courtesy of Dâm-Funk. It is once again a record of gentle, stripped-back pop, shorn of any unnecessary flourishes. ‘The walker’ shimmers with transcendent beauty, while ‘Doesn’t matter’ pours out like a stream of consciousness laid over a nagging beat. The production throughout adds only the necessary, the lightest of touches adding only what is needed. Each beat and rhythm is impeccable, each flash of inspiration heightening the overall effect.
The use of language and lyrical content throughout Chris is exceptional. “Forget I said it, I soliloquise” she murmurs during ‘Doesn’t matter’, while playfully asking: “What if the second verse, it doesn’t even mean a thing” on ‘Feel so good’. There is a sense sometimes that something has been lost in translation, but mostly there is a poetry and mystery behind later tracks that resound the most. A fluid approach to sexuality and gender politics have always been an aspect to Letissier, none more so here than on ‘Damn (What must a woman do)’. Opening with a request to: “Let me taste on a butch babe in L.A.” as well as speaking of: “A young man fresh asleep, the end of our friendship”, the titular question is answered frankly by an artist unafraid to challenge and prod at stereotypes.
The poignant and powerful ‘What’s-her-face’ reveals another side. An unspecified childhood incident is painfully revealed (“It’s been years since that playground…it was hard to remember so my name became a slur”. Immediately following it, ‘Make some sense’ is wonderfully romantic and gorgeous pop music of the very highest order, easily a match for (whisper it) peak-Madonna. That is what comes to define this (largely) undefinable character. Chris is a richly layered follow-up to an exceptional debut, one that deserves and demands repeat listens. It exists inside its own environment, a world entirely of Letissier’s making. It is genuinely exciting to see an artist like this emerge into the world, uncompromising and unaffected.