“There’s a pride in my singing / The thickness of a new skin / I am done with belonging,” sings Héloïse Letissier on ‘Comme Si’, the opening song of her decidedly swaggering second album. Accessorising short-hacked hair with billowing shirts and a whacking great love-bite on her neck, ‘Chris’ oozes with all the desire that her debut grappled with. As such, it’s a harsher, hungrier sounding record, turning utter filth into sublime poetry atop the kind of dirty synth-work that would leave Janet Jackson producers Jerry Jam and Terry Lewis beaming with glee.
It’s the shadowy flip-side to its predecessor. 2016’s ‘Chaleur humaine’ was a soft-edged evocation that found ways to simply exist as tilted in a world that prefers straight lines. Bolstered by her growing fame and remarkable rise to the top of pop, ‘Chris’ is an album that flaunts the idea of being a strong, threatening, sexually empowered woman. Flecked with generous amounts of provocative Spanish (it’s fair to say Duolingo won’t teach you a phrase like “para follarse”), ‘Damn (What Must A Woman Do)’ is particularly bold, with gasped whispers punctuating cartoonish, ‘Dangerous’-by-Michael-Jackson production. And ‘Goya Soda’ headily combines spluttering bursts of synth with a flash-lesson in art history, blending Francisco Goya’s twisted, demon-filled paintings with fizzy pop and doomed lust. “As he eats my heart out I’m on my knees,” Chris sings.
Nabbing aspects of homoeroticism from all things hyper-masculine, ‘Chris’ pays little mind to conformity. There’s very little ambiguity when it comes to ‘Comme si’ (“’Cause when you play me loud baby we are making love / Now play me once again and let go”). Meanwhile, the ‘5 Dollars’ video is surely the first in mainstream pop – in recent memory, at least – to incorporate bondage gear.
That’s not to say that ‘Chris’ simply gets its sonic rocks off (though, admittedly, that’s a large part of the appeal). The melancholy ‘What’s-her-face’ harks back to the insults that stained Christine and the Queens so frequently in the past; the track recalls playgrounds taunts and laments “My bubblin’ face, tangled hair/ Like gloomy thoughts to separate”. Often, too, menace lurks beneath the flexing bravado; as Chris saunters out in the dead of night, searching for “violent blossoms” on ‘The Walker’, tension creeps through the shadows.
Following in the formidable footsteps of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bowie, and other such icons of creative evolution, Christine and the Queens is clearly striving to be a similar sort of chameleon-like artist, riveted on challenging both herself and her audience. On the evidence of ‘Chris’ – a deft and bogglingly-intelligent record, which somehow sounds blissfully effortless too – she’s earned her own place in the pop icon history books.