Secret Meeting score: 84
by Dave Bertram
A heartbroken theatre school dropout once moved to London in search of herself- making a bid to build a music career as a vehicle to open up about sexuality, gender and ambition, while addressing the issues that plagued the life she was attempting to leave behind. And it’s a path pursued by many, certainly. But perhaps not many as hell bent as Héloïse Letissier, or as we know (knew) her, Christine and the Queens.
Reborn following a chance encounter with a group of drag queens, Christine delivered 2014’s Chaleur Humaine to much critical acclaim- conveying the persona of a woman who felt lost, and in many ways constrained by the gender stereotypes she felt society is grappling with.
On album number two, Chris, Letissier has adopted a more masculine guise to consume the benefits of male privilege and attempts to slay the cemented expectations of how society assumes a person should behave, the beliefs they should have and the values they should uphold.
Reintroduced on the record’s bold lead single, Girlfriend, as a cropped haired ‘lad’, she’s kicking womanhood around with brazen confidence to a soundtrack of disco-funk, singing – “Yes sir I am wet / for I abandoned my fame in the lake / Let’s see now how fast you’re breathing and how long this will all take.”
Chris is a step forward. Yes, this is full of beautifully-layered electronic beats, well-crafted melodies and precision engineered vocal deliveries that ooze MJ’s gift for rhythm and funk, but it’s backed by a refreshing, no compromise approach to structure and lyrical templates that can often be so banal in the world of mainstream pop – a world that Letissier now stands up on her own two feet in.
It’s out with the soft, delicate moods of Chaleur Humaine and in with a direct approach that is rough and ready, and instrumentation, beats and arrangements that are, at times, pure filth. The heat is rife on Feel So Good and Damn (What Must a Woman Do), where Letissier bemoans the labels women are made to wear for their supposed ‘slutty’ behaviour. But the complexities live on – The Walker chronicles her uncertainties and What’s-Her-Face recounts how childhood sorrows of being the outsider still surface today.
This is an out and out, mainstream pop record, but it carries with it a unique, emotive undercurrent and invention that separates it from most.