French is in a spot of #MeToo bother. Its grammar is riddled with sexism. A thousand women are “elles” but add one man and they become “ils”. Time for the Académie française to update its notion of gender — compulsory retraining with Christine and the Queens’ excellent new album is needed.

Chris is the follow-up to 2014’s Chaleur Humaine, a hit in France and then throughout Europe and the English-speaking world. The earlier album explored the gender-fluid identity of the eponymous Christine, aka Héloïse Letissier. Chris, titled after the neutral name by which Letissier now prefers to be known, amplifies the theme with songs of even greater coherence and charisma.

The album develops the electronic sound of its predecessor while moving away from the orchestral elements. Letissier’s production of her music is highly impressive. Opener “Comme si” threatens to go the full 1980s with glossy synths and drum pads but stops short of the semi-ironic tone of other French acts such as Phoenix. Subsequent tracks settle into a perfectly weighted groove, with an impeccable grasp of sonic dynamics and melody.

“Girlfriend” is smoothly seductive pop-funk. “Doesn’t Matter” balances a crisp beat and low-frequency bassline to tell of a dark night of the soul. “Damn (What Must a Woman Do)” shades into electronic R&B. “What’s-her-face” relives an episode of childhood bullying with deep melancholy chords with a strong pulsing bass, an evocative sense of manageable but still-thrumming hurt.

Letissier’s vocals are assured, shifting gear in an unforced fashion between sleekness and emotiveness. She sings from the viewpoint of what she calls “une femme phallique”, a sexual being with multiple permutations. As a minor cavil I wish the album were less binary in its linguistic consciousness: there are French and English editions, and fewer songs mixing the two languages than on Chaleur Humaine. But I suppose the separation should keep the Académie française on side.


Chris’ is released by Because Music

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