Christine and the Queens

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Chris Review

by Heather Phares

Christine and the Queens' debut album, Chaleur Humaine, announced Chris as a heartfelt, eloquent artist and earned him a thriving following of listeners who felt he was singing directly to -- and for -- them. Its coming-of-age stories, such as the hit singles "St. Claude" and "Tilted," had an almost liquid tenderness that brought his identity softly into focus. Chaleur Humaine's success was literally transformative: the demands of touring made Chris stronger inside and out, and Chris reflects that, reinventing his identity and sound from its androgynous one-syllable title to its honed songwriting. Using boundary-breaking role models like Madonna and Sigourney Weaver as inspiration, Chris' second album digs into autonomy and lust. He's the pursuer on "Goya Soda"'s tale of erotic chasing and consuming, and unafraid to show his impatience with male and female lovers alike on "Damn (What Must a Woman Do)." Thanks to the vintage new jack samples he used to create the album, Chris sounds as strong and sharp-edged as Chris' viewpoint. The headstrong, dramatic sounds of late-'80s and early-'90s R&B feel both familiar and foreign, and provide an inspired backdrop for Chris' subversion of traditional gender roles. He sounds tough, seductive, and even a little playful on the Dâm-Funk collaboration "Girlfriend," where he refuses the passive territory of the song's title with one breath and delivers a sexy counteroffer ("damn, I'd be your lover") with the next. In much the same way he previously borrowed from Kanye and covered Beyoncé, on Chris he channels Michael and Janet Jackson with electrifying results. The bright, tight opener, "Comme Si," evokes the way the King of Pop generated excitement back in the day, its shimmying and popping percussion suggesting the choreography that was so integral to his music (and is to Chris'). Later, his taut, vibrato-laden vocals on "Feel So Good" echo both Michael's and Janet's styles over sliding synths and samples of breaking glass. Crucially, Chris' purposeful sound doesn't come at the cost of his vulnerability -- in fact, his newfound strength lets him reveal more. On "What's-Her-Face," he brilliantly captures how teenage bullying can still feel like it happened yesterday. "The Walker" is an unbowed ballad that compares bruises to violets and wears them like badges of honor, while "Doesn't Matter" is a crisis of faith that's impossible not to dance to; even though he questions everything, Christine urges listeners to find a ray of hope and run with it. As he examines what masculinity, femininity, strength, and vulnerability mean to him, Chris has never sounded more exposed -- or in control. A triumph, Chris reaffirms just how brilliantly he engages minds, hearts, and bodies.

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