Christine or “Chris”? That’s essentially the question at the heart of Christine and the Queens’ second album. In one form or another, it’s also a question that Héloïse Letissier, the French singer/songwriter/producer behind the synth-pop project, often hears as someone who identifies as pansexual. The answer tends to be complex, but Letissier doesn’t attempt to clarify anything over the album’s 11 tracks. “Chris” is instead dedicated to exploring the in-between: in between machismo and femininity; self-perception and outer-perception; tender, fragile love and raw, unabashed sex. It’s a refreshing, empowering record that embraces finding identity in a lack thereof.
While the album sports some stellar production and contagiously danceable jams — fans of “Bad”-era Michael Jackson and ’90s Madonna will feel right at home — it particularly stands out thanks to Letissier’s continuously sharp and engrossing lyricism (she also wrote and recorded the entire album in French). The first two tracks, “Comme si” and “Girlfriend,” reel you in with their bold declarations of love without shame or societal hangups. “I am done with belonging,” Letissier declares in the former, while in the latter she describes coming home sweating from the night before. Then there’s “Damn (what must a woman do),” a hot-and-bothered banger where “raunchy” only begins to describe its contents (and for the sake of keeping things PG, we’ll have to leave it there).
Steamy love songs aside, Letissier also flexes her storytelling muscles to cover a range of topics, from Springsteen-esque workingman’s anthems (“5 dollars”) to honest questionings of faith (“Doesn’t matter”). On the poignant highlight “The walker,” she sings from the perspective of someone dealing with the physical and emotional toll of domestic violence. With haunting lines like “A swollen eye is four days/Of curious calm, snow in May,” there won’t be a dry eye on the dance floor when CATQ break this one out on tour.
Though the album loses steam in the second half, the songs at the front end are more than enough to make “Chris” one of the better pop albums this year. It’s certainly graphic at times, but Letissier never seems like she is playing for shock value; rather, she’s simply a queer woman being honest about herself, speaking up, and putting unfair gender perceptions on blast. That fact alone is worth dancing to.Robert Steiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.