Album Review: Christine and the Queens – Christine and the Queens (2016 LP)

I’m trying to teach myself French, and a friend put me on to Christine and the Queens (the stage/project name of bilingual French musician Héloïse Letissier). It turns out it’s only about half-useful, because Christine and the Queens’ self-titled debut has a lot of English lyrics, at least on the international release. It’s a good album, though, and Letissier’s voice is consistently charming, in English or French.

Letissier calls Christine and the Queens’ music ‘freak-pop’. Wikipedia opts for the more conservative ‘synth-pop’, but whatever pigeon-hole you’re using, Christine and the Queens is right in the middle of that ’80s-tinged, orchestral synth-pop sound. Christine and the Queens is a good, strong debut. It’s spacey, atmospheric, a little weird, with an almost menacing edge, especially in the creeping reverb of album closer ‘Here’.

The bilingual angle mixed with the thick accent means that the listener is always playing catch up, flipping between two languages as Letissier fluidly shifts from English to French and then back again. ‘Tilted’, which has a central melody that sounds almost reversed somehow, has Letissier’s accented English interrupted at the bridge with a whispered, fast-paced verse in French, coming in like a break or a moment of respite in a song that’s jerky and stylised. It’s also one of the best songs on the album and required listening if you’re into floaty French synth-pop.

Christine and the Queens as an album is at its strongest when it’s more focused, especially when Letissier uses her light, atypical voice to its best emotional effect. ‘Night52’ is a bit schmaltzy, but it’s got a mid-’90s graduation song vibe that plays up its theme of long-thwarted love, and Letissier delivers it emotionally. A little extra fromage doesn’t always hurt a song, after all.

As a debut, Christine and the Queens reaches high and manages to grasp a lot of what it’s aiming for. It comes across as being very French, and while it’s not exactly a new sound, Christine and the Queens have a take on it that’s fun, heartfelt, and interesting. For fans of vintage-tinged synth-pop and/or French blonde pan-sexuals in suits (both being great), Christine and the Queens is definitely a worthwhile listen.

Review Score: 8.2 out of 10

Christine and the Queens is out now through Warner Music Australia & Because Music