Album Review: Christine and the Queens, ‘Paranoïa, Angels, True Love’

    “From where I stand, everything is glorious,” Chris announces on the opening track of his new album. It’s a dream-state vantage point he rarely departs on the sprawling, breathtaking follow-up to last year’s Redcar les adorables étoiles (prologue), but that’s not to say the record stays in one place. Aided by Mike Dean’s shapeshifting production, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love might be the fullest – or, more to the point, truest – expression of what the Christine and the Queens project has been hinting at for years. Directly inspired by Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America, the record’s title seems to present the framework for each of its three acts, but the thematic focus is really down there in the middle – Angels – with Paranoïa and True Love acting as opposing energies that drift in and out of the main stage. It meanders but never gets lost or blinded by its own poetic glory and performance, creating a potent, immersive, and rewarding experience that doesn’t require you to know anything about Chris or Angels in America in advance. You’re engaged simply by standing before him.

    Chris said he realized this “a bit late,” but Redcar was Paranoïa. The last record, sung almost entirely in French, was heady and impenetrable, most thrilling for offering clear glimpses of what lay on the horizon. The singles leading up to the new album gave credence to that impression, each one slice of immaculate synthpop after another. Chris doesn’t seem to be pursuing pop perfection, though, and every time he lands there feels instead like an act of deep devotion and a crucial point in the story. The indelible ‘Tears can be so soft’ plumbs the depths of grief in search of catharsis, and it’s astounding just how naturally at home it feels on what is ostensibly Chris’ least down-to-earth effort yet. As mercurial as its scope might seem, its highlights really are tender and human, like ‘A day in the water’, which evokes a sense of melancholic uncertainty it’s in no rush to shake off. Arguably the most melodious track on the album is ‘Flowery days’, in which Chris is consumed by a vision of love so pure and organic it beats the pull of eternity: “When I die of love/ I want to be settled down into a fiery crown/ Into the flowery days.”

    Chris’ vision keeps morphing and facing obstances throughout Paranoïa, Angels, True Love, but it never loses its strangely hypnotic, introspective quality. Love and despair are inextricable, and poetry is his sword – not to destroy them, but to “recreate it all, and forgive it all,” as he sings on ‘Big Eye’. Unlike Redcar, the new album was made almost entirely in English, which actually allowed Chris to dive into a well of possibilities: ‘Let me touch you once’ finds him surrendering into a kind of ecstasy that’s almost embittered with rage, but which drastically softens on ‘Aimer, puis vivre’, the only French-language track on the album. As he repeatedly begs his lover to go dancing on ‘Track 10’, an 11-track odyssey that’s both amorphous and one of the most captivating moments on the album, his voice stretches in practically every direction without feeling disembodied, instead finding immense pleasure in tracing the intricacies of desire that were previously inaccessible. Madonna, who appears multiple times as the omnipresent Big Eye, then teases the possibility of transcendence, peering into the immaterial realm: “Just let go of any pressure in your body,” she intones. “The terrestrial food is of no importance now.”

    No matter how it presents its grand sense of ambition – which generally descends into something hazier as each act progresses – the allure of Paranoïa is strikingly immediate. Even after several listens, I’m still amazed at the fact that it manages to even hold my attention, let alone move me when I least expect it. A lot of it has to do with how Chris’ signature theatricality, which is often heightened here, never interferes with the intensely personal nature of the songs; it’s something to plow through rather than revel in. ‘Full of life’, for instance, gracefully subverts Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D Major’ by overlaying the words “lonely, fucking, touching, something,” before ‘Angels crying in my bed’ slithers into trip-hop territory. This isn’t a never-ending ascent, but approaching a question: “Do you know how it feels/ To be inside it?” he sings on the 070 Shake-assisted ‘True Love’, which answers by dancing around the feeling. As ravishing as the last few songs may be, True Love remains but a flicker of a suggestion – one that somehow feels all-encompassing, even if that part never fully plays itself out. “I never know when to search or stay still,” Chris sings, staging a course beyond the inevitable. “So I fly.”

    Arts in one place.

    All of our content is free, if you would like to subscribe to our newsletter or even make a small donation, click the button below.

    People are Reading

    “From where I stand, everything is glorious," Chris announces on the opening track of his new album. It's a dream-state vantage point he rarely departs on the sprawling, breathtaking follow-up to last year's Redcar les adorables étoiles (prologue), but that's not to say the record...Album Review: Christine and the Queens, 'Paranoïa, Angels, True Love'