When Christine and The Queens first burst onto the scene, his trajectory felt akin to a pop fairy-tale. The project originally came to light on a heartbroken trip to London, where a group of drag queens at Soho’s now-closed venue Madame Jojo’s encouraged Chris to put his pain to music. After picking himself up and taking their advice, the artist dropped out of ENS de Lyon and channelled his theatrical background into this new, super-charged alter-ego.
Initially courting attention with his heavily choreographed performances, coveted festival slots – and a standing ovation from Elton John at the Roundhouse – swiftly followed. Suited and booted on the cover of his 2014 debut ‘Chaleur Humaine’, the star clutched a bunch of flowers and sang of the pain and beauty of being a “tilted” outsider. These queer narratives have always formed an important part of Chris’ music (“I’m a man now, and I won’t let you steal it / I bought it for myself,” he sang on ‘iT’). 2018 follow-up ‘Chris’ then paired muscular, cartoonish production with a moaning, hip-thrusting new anti-hero, with the songs beoming an intimate form of communication. “When you play me loud me, baby,” he sang on ‘Comme Si’, “we are making love.”
With Redcar, the artist has adopted another much more abstract persona – a “poetic and philosophical construction” that has gone through a number of evolutions. After originally adopting the name Rahim last year – and working with ‘Redcar les adorables étoiles’ collaborator Mike Dean (Kanye West, Beyoncé) on the sprawling soundscape ‘Rahim Lives’ – he later dropped the moniker following some criticism (Rahim is one of the names of Allah in Islam) and instead adopted Redcar. A suave figure wearing a red glove, Redcar is pitched somewhere between American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman and a sleazy car salesman. Attempting to elaborate further on this new persona, Chris posted frequently on social media about this new crimson vehicle for art and poetry, though it didn’t exactly offer much clarity.
While both ‘Chris’ and 2020 EP ‘La Vita Nuova’ used pop as a vessel to examine the push-pull tension between effortlessly infiltrating the mainstream and remaining true to more left-field creative impulses, ‘Redcar les adorables étoiles’ veers drastically towards the latter. Cloaked in eerie clouds and lurches of gloomy synthesiser, this is his darkest work musically: though it shares ‘La Vita Nuova’s high art leanings, the stage is set differently this time; few of these songs come with soaring choruses.
Instead, the hulking great horror synths of ‘La chanson du chevalier’ and the looping sing-song vocals of ‘My Birdman’ – muffled and scratchy, like a stuck old record – serve to conjure up atmosphere over immediacy, lending the album the trajectory of an opera or theatre production. Its slowed-down, dramatically heightened grooves – think ‘80s French new wave acts like Indochine, Les Rita Mitsouko and Mylène Farmer, but wading through a viscous puddle of pearlescent oil – linger across the whole record like a moody spectre. “I’m made of water and earth, and my heart shines within a cage,” Chris sings in French on ‘Mémoire des ailes’ as it buzzes with a muffled, robotic harpsichord. “And I search for the meaning in order to feel alive.”
Much of this record is also spent in pursuit of love, a destination which is often framed as transcendent and biblical. Angels and fountains spewing holy water are placed throughout this record’s uneasy, beautiful soundscape alongside mythical knights and Catholic saints. “Until your cup is full of these earthly pleasures / You will remember that your heart only awaits / Your other, your soul, your oath!” Chris sings in French on ‘Combien de temps’ as gaudy, twinkling synth-organs unpin its strange, mantra-like lyrics. ”I need to love as I need to breathe,” he sings later. “I need to love because such is my life.”
Though Christine and The Queens has certainly never shied away from drawing on challenging, if sometimes obscure, reference points (‘La Vita Nuova’ reimagined a lesser-known romantic text by Dante, while ‘Chris’ skilfully produced a pop banger inspired by the grotesque paintings of Spanish painter Francisco Goya), rich visual accompaniments bursting with subtext have often aided even the most meticulous listeners in joining the dots. In comparison, the messaging around ‘Redcar…’ feels more unfocused: Chris’ dystopian vision of a “meat car”, with blood coursing through its pistons, seems to raise questions about bodies, identity, art, capitalism and productivity. Many of the love songs here, meanwhile, are perhaps addressed to the pursuit of poetry itself; artistic truth rising out of the pain. “From my tall wings that weigh me to my knees, a new earth will grow,” he sings on ‘Angelus’.
One of the main stumbling blocks with ‘Redcar les adorables étoiles’ is that Chris’ latest persona still feels unclear, even upon the record’s release. Perhaps blame lies, in part, with a quieter promotional album roll-out, with little in the way of cohesive visuals to draw out meaning. Though these are often beautiful and uneasy songs, too many of them feel rudderless.
- Release date: November 11, 2022
- Record label: Because Music