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The queen is dead, long live the king

The queen is dead, long live the king

On her gorgeous new album, Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens channels her male alter-ego. Plus, other musical notes

On her gorgeous new album, Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens channels her male alter-ego. Plus, other musical notes

October/November 2018

Queen Christine
Héloïse Letissier’s debut album, under the stage name Christine and the Queens, hit a high note. Listeners were seduced by “Tilted” and the clean, sharp lines of the other tracks. Its follow-up, Chris, ramps up the gender politics – Letissier (above) identifies as fluid, which is why she’s now performing as Chris rather than Christine – but also embraces a purer pop, with hints of Chic and both Michael and Janet Jackson. Straddling joy and melancholy, “Chris” is driven by its infectious melodies. You don’t need to have a lyric sheet to enjoy “Make Some Sense”, a gorgeous, limpid electronic ballad that is the clearest expression of the album’s debt to Eighties pop. In fact, it’s easiest to ignore the lyrics – Letissier’s phrasing, combined with the fact that the lyrics are English rewrites of the French originals, can make them a tad confusing. Concentrate instead on Letissier’s voice and the perfectly judged arrangements. To be both accessible and mysterious is a rare gift, and one that “Chris” has in spades. ~ MICHAEL HANN
Chris out now

A diamond in the rough
At 68, Lonnie Holley has an eventful past. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he claims to be the seventh of 27 children and has fathered 15 kids of his own. He’s worked as a short-order cook at Disney World, a gravedigger and a self-taught artist, making sandstone carvings and sculptures from rubbish, some of which now belong to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian. He started recording music in 2012.

Holley’s roving, magpie spirit shines through in MITH, his third album, on which he illuminates the margins of American life. Visceral and heavily improvised, “MITH” is built on brass, synthesisers and a murky piano, with Holley’s searching vocal harmonies floating on top. His lyrics spin off into ragged meditations on everything from the cosmos (“Down in the Ghostness of Darkness”) to police brutality (“I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America”). Taken together, the ten tracks feel redemptive. “My life has been so misused,” he sings on “I’m a Suspect”. And yet what could have been a chronicle of world-weariness becomes an assertion of his perseverance. Not for nothing is its final song called “Sometimes I Wanna Dance”. ~ DAN PIEPENBRING
MITH out now

Lord of the ring
Richard Wagner’s 15-hour Der Ring des Nibelungen has long been regarded as a musical Everest for both singers and aspiring opera buffs. Evil dwarfs, giants and gods struggle for power. The ring, fashioned from gold out of the Rhine, theoretically guarantees mastery of the world, but actually brings down a curse on anyone who holds it in their hands, even for a moment. Battles rage throughout the universe, from the bowels of the underworld to the gods’ high abode in Valhalla. Only when the God Wotan begets human children, and Valhalla goes up in flames, can a new world governed by love be allowed to dawn.

Wagner’s ideas may be hokum, but his music is spellbinding. The brass-driven “Ride of the Valkyries” – about female warriors – has been the best-known Wagner track ever since Francis Ford Coppola used it in his film “Apocalypse Now”, but that’s only a tiny fragment of the majestic score. It can now be heard in full at the Royal Opera House in London, with Sir Antonio Pappano conducting a star-studded cast whose performances should exert mesmerising power. ~ MICHAEL CHURCH
Der Ring des Nibelungen Royal Opera House, London Sept 24th-Nov 2nd. Die Walküre live world-wide cinema relay, Oct 28th