In 2014, the artist known as Christine and the Queens didn’t introduce himself to the world so much as grab and shake it by the shoulders. With his debut ‘Chaleur Humaine’, and subsequently 2018’s ‘Chris’, he, a lonely man, made music for fellow loners – a vivid and exquisite loneliness as generative and back-building as heartbreak. With pain as his motor, he spoke the language of intense yearning, his anguish incandescent. His songs – which encompassed every shade from puppy-dog love to suicidal ideation – possessed the dizzying and devastating emotional range not seen in pop since the Pet Shop Boys. He danced like a young Fred Astaire, swaggered like Mick Jagger, stole hearts like Justin Bieber. He was one of alt-pop’s most promising prospects.
On his latest album ‘PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE’, Chris sounds as though he’s misplaced his tact. Where he once reached out to the world, here he turns in on himself, becoming overly solipsistic and self-indulgent. There’s nothing so powerful as a hallucination, or even a tantrum, but to onlookers there’s no helping someone, or even relating to them, when they’re immersed in that state – such is the experience of listening to this record.
Presented as a 96-minute opera, his fourth studio album is a haughty gesture weighed down by its own folly, scanning instead as pathos. Few operas lack defined acts, very few have a sustained and homogenous mood. ‘PARANOÏA, ANGELS, TRUE LOVE’ joins an exclusive field: it is an often wearisome listen.
Co-produced alongside Mike Dean (Kanye West, Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey), the album’s palette is reminiscent of Seal’s Balearic-inspired self-titled album. The mixing is groundless, womb-like and cavernous, while the words all too rarely shimmer in the album’s semi-darkness. Once a sharp lyricist, Chris is frequently depthless, meandering and piecemeal in his songwriting. His hooks are pat (“your dark eyes staring at me,” he intones over and over on ‘True Love’), and nothing is tightened up. The songs register more like emotional improvisations which could benefit from the poise of reflection and deeper consideration. The album is merely a series of desperate pleas; the sound of someone weakening and becoming devitalised.
Madonna, who Chris enlists here as a guest on three tracks, embodies a Laurie Anderson-like omniscient cyborg role, there to help give the album some shape and coherence. Her chilly presence ultimately jars with Chris’ maudlinism, particularly on ‘Lick The Light Out’, a song that sounds as though it’s travelling in two opposing directions, unsure of where to land. Likewise, on ‘True Love’ and ‘Let Me Touch You Once’, which feature the fast-rising 070 Shake, Chris appears to sublimate his musical identity to his guest. Both songs sound more like 070 Shake b-sides, leaving Chris’ voice sounding timid and uncertain.
When an artist prepossessed with so much greatness takes such a fall in quality, you have to ask, with quite a lot of sincerity: is he OK? Come back, Chris, and shake us up once again.
- Release date: June 9
- Record label: Because Music