Christine and the Queens Plays With Gender Identity on Androgynous Masterpiece ‘Chris’
Let’s be honest. “Gender” is really an ambiguous term. When you’re small, and told things like “Blue is for boys,” and “Pink is for girls,” it makes people latch on to ideas that are very limiting, and quite unrepresentative of the whole spectrum of masculinity and femininity. As a result, you have guys starting fights for no apparent reason, and girls wearing makeup because — well, why not? There’s been a cultural shift, making people drop their bibles in sheer terror, and Christine and the Queens is at the forefront. Real name Héloïse Letissier, Christine has released her latest album, “Chris,” in both English and French, giving you quite a lot to listen to. The album artwork depicts her as the eponymous “Chris,” yet the album sounds decidedly feminine in spite of this posture.
Opener “Comme Si” occasionally finds Christine tapping into vocal inflections that would be more expected in French, giving the music an exotic touch. “Girlfriend” launches you headlong into the ‘80s, so much so that it comes across as a bit of a joke, but in the best possible way. At the beginning of the song, Christine says, “Chris,” sounding as if advertising a product. It’s all very cheeky, and Dam-Funk is featured, bringing in his wild synths, making it all a wild, funky circus. “The Walker” follows, and at this point, it’s striking how feminine Christine sounds, in sharp contrast to the figure she’s made on the cover art. Judging from that, you would expect her to be groaning and grunting in some type of Tom Jones routine. What you get, instead, is a glossed-over, ultra sheened ‘80s-informed pop shimmer. It gets even more into that vein on the next track, “Doesn’t Matter,” at which point her crispness and fluidity is just immaculate. Whatever the hell Christine, or “Chris,” is doing, she is totally owning it.
“5 Dollars” is an absolute highlight, an immediately catchy song, with the chorus of “5 dollars, baby blues” being one of those examples of words that just seem so perfect with a tune. The song is apparently about a sex worker, which makes it a bit unsettling, and all the more interesting, as Christine sings with such pomp and verve that you would never know. “Goya Soda” gets cheeky with the ‘80s bass, right in your face, hardcore. The song was inspired by a Francisco Goya painting, “Saturn Devouring His Son.” As for the soda part, the best we can do is shrug. Christine has said, “ I don’t know why “Goya Soda” came to my mind, but it was a cool riddle.” It’s this type of randomness that often makes for the best art, allowing the subconscious to really make something of itself, and this song is a shining example. “Damn (What Must a Woman Do)” has a particularly feisty synth line, and showcases Christine again sounding noticeably French. Given the title, and title of the album, it’s important to take in context. She even speaks a bit of Spanish, with the lines, “Damn, what must a woman do? / Para follarse, para follarse,” with the Spanish translating to “to fuck herself.” It’s an especially candid expression of, well, sexual frustration perhaps.
“What’s-her-face” is the grand, sweeping ballad of the record. Christine’s backing vocals add a lot of ambiance, and it comes across as very grand and poignant. “Feels So Good” brings back the unabashed ‘80s machinery, and showcases Christine again displaying her Frenchness in little subtleties of intonation that are very charming. It makes for a very unique sound, with a lot of personality and flair. “Make Some Sense” sounds a bit like a prom dance song from a couple decades earlier, and shows Christine really standing out as a singer. There’s a certain freeness of her delivery that would be terrible to not recognize. There are certain singers who exhibit a certain artistic impulse, and go to free reigns, expanding to proportions that you don’t usually see in mainstream artists, and Christine is one of these.
Overall, this is a solid album, and it would be even apart from the whole packaging. Considering that, it’s an effective statement. If you only look at the cover art, Christine absolutely looks like her alter ego — the eponymous Chris. And she sounds, on the album, as feminine as could be. She’s shaking things up, asking exactly what is what, and she sounds brilliant.
“Chris” is available Sept. 21 on Apple Music.