As a project, Christine and the Queens has always been devoted to the complexity of identity. Even without delving into the conceptual framework of each individual release, it’s impossible not to be struck by the singular voice at its center, its grace and kineticism conveying both rich emotional depth and high ambitions – qualities that most pop stars struggle to reconcile. Beginning with 2014’s Chaleur Humaine, they offered an interrogation of gender that was rare in its mix of vulnerability and confidence. The more attention it garnered, especially with its introduction to the American market, the harder the artist peered into the dynamics of sex and power that are at play when you’re in the public eye – and so Chris was born as another dazzling gesture in the journey of self-definition. When your last EP has been described as an “odyssey” – albeit one that found success in one of the most enduring pandemic-era songs – and is practically inseparable from its accompanying narrative short film, expectations for the next full-length are already high.
Released under the new alias Redcar, Redcar et les adorables étoiles (prologue) is appropriately bold and theatrical. As much as it signals another transformation for the artist, the album presents itself as the next act, a continuation in the project of becoming rather than an entirely new undertaking. While Christine and the Queens opened with an assertive yet ambivalent introduction (“I’m a man now”), the first song on Redcar, ‘Ma bien aimée bye-bye’, begins with a separation that seems to blur into dreams (“My beloved bye-bye/ You’re my wife ‘til I die,” Chris echoes). To build the rest of the story, he uses the same palette that made the previous albums so arresting: pop music that’s radiant, experimental, and grandiose, with a strong tinge of the ’80s and an undercurrent of constant yearning. The expressive range of his voice leads the way, backed by synths that are eerie in their aliveness – sometimes subtle, sometimes explosive. It appears in its most accessible and universal form on ‘Looking for love’, clearly the standout as far as euphoric, danceable pop goes. But it doesn’t take much of a discerning eye to see that it takes him in a few different directions.
At first glance, it seems like the result of stretching this approach as far out as possible, using myth and drama to tell a celestially bound story of love. What keeps it engaging, at least for those not fluent in French, isn’t so much the melodic or poetic foundations of each song – though there are ones that resonate more than others – but the emotional fluctuations that permeate them, and the balance that Chris achieves throughout. The dreamy wistfulness of ‘Ma bien aimée bye-bye’ is broken by the vigorous ‘Tu sais ce qu’il me faut’, where obsessive lust reverberates through the gaze and fantasy rather than the body; even when he sings of dreaming of the other person, looming synths and propulsive percussion anchor the song in the physical realm. The impatience fades on the strikingly delicate ‘Rien dire’, where the burden of distance inspires a tender ode to the profound endurance of love. Though a single, it’s more of a gentle exhale than a pivotal moment on the album, and it’s juxtaposed with the imposing and referential ‘La clairefontaine’.
Chris avoids oscillating between the extremes of irrepressible desire and patient love, teasing out a grander, more nuanced narrative about searching for meaning. That perspective-shifting moment arrives on ‘Les étoiles’, where the character seems to wildly reach out into the cosmos, as does the instrumentation around him – all flickering lights, synth stabs, expanding ambience. You can sense that whatever enlightenment this encounter brings comes with a hint of delusion: “I come from the heavens/ The stars speak to me, mother.” But the clear centerpiece is ‘Combien de temps’, which sprawls across eight and a half minutes that are probably enough to earn Redcar the title of Chris’ most “challenging” project yet. Yet it’s not an odyssey so much as a slow-burner, one that builds anticipation through a simple pop-funk groove that gives space to Redcar’s heightened monologue, painting himself as a god-like figure craving earthly delights (“I have a heart as big as my conscience/ That goes through ages, through impatience”).
There’s not much of a release after ‘Combien de temps’, and the album unfortunately plateaus once it’s over. It’s billed as a prologue, so perhaps future installments will bring a more satisfying conclusion, but as it stands, and purely from a musical standpoint, Redcar feels slightly overlong and amorphous without a clear purpose. But it’s still exciting to hear Chris testing these waters and wondering what lies on the other side, and even if it’s an uphill climb, he’s more than willing to stop for pleasure. The light, he continues to suggest, is worth pursuing – and why? As long you have someone to walk there with you, it never shines the same.