“He’s all broken/ Fallen from the stars…” laments Redcar, also known as Christine and the Queens. In this new presentation, the artist now using he/him pronouns is a “suited, demented, broken-down man”. Much of Redcar Les Adorables Étoiles finds him yowling (mostly in French) into a dark maze of lost and looping grooves, his questing vocals echoing over the unyielding crunch of Eighties synths and the occasional agonised electric guitar. Imagine the Eurythmics and Jean-Michel Jarre hooking up to jam through on an operatic jazz odyssey in an underground car park somewhere beneath a rain-drenched Paris at 2am, and you’re about there.
To understand the pain and disorientation Redcar is expressing, you need the back story. In a tearful interview with The Guardian last week, the 34-year-old French artist born Heloise Letissier spoke of the sudden loss of his mother, Martine, to a heart infection in 2019. He explained that – even as he made a name as the increasingly boyish singer of “Tilted” (2014) and “Girlfriend” (2018) – Martine had needed some part of him to remain a daughter for her. Now she is gone, Redcar is free to jettison that female identity. But he was then hurt to find himself attacked online by some members of the trans community for his resistance to surgery. He maintains that “I don’t owe anyone scars […] What needed to be changed was self-hate, dysphoria and self-harm.” Somewhere in the middle of all this came a break-up with somebody Redcar says he still loves. So: a lot.
The album opens with a clatter of live drums – tingling with cymbals – and rolling bass, marking an instant sonic shift from the slick R&B inventions of 2018’s Chris. “Ma bien aimée bye-bye” is a drifting hymn to loss, during which Redcar reaches dreamily for an “immortal, unchanged” face and vows: “You’re my wife til I die.” There’s still the rubbery snap and funk to the beat that you’d expect from a dancer as good as we know him to be, but the melody is looser and spacier. There’s a punchier pace of “Tu sais ce qu’il me faut” with stuttering lyrics about horses and soldiers – the battle theme continues on “La chanson du chevalier”, where sweet breathy vocals find the singer reaching for a sword. ”Please raise it well / Show me your strength and your destiny!” he demands.
Redcar has spoken of the shamanic trips he’s taken over the past year, and you can hear it in the music. Fans of slick formats are going to find much of this album too wandering, even aimless. They should head straight for the tighter poppier “Rien Dire” and the terrific trip-hoppy “My Birdman” (all splashy pools of piano and circling sampling), both of which have clear melodies that soar through the grooves.
Those more open to a ramble will find themselves easily led through the whole journey by Redcar’s commitment to the grooves and expressive vocals. It’s worth taking the whole trip with him, as the mood gradually lightens towards the dawn of final songs “Angelus” (on which he imagines angels descending from the “pissing sky”) and “Les âmes amentes” on which he hails golden sunshine visions of bees and birds and naked bliss. Easy for the cynics to mock, but it’s hard to fault the earnest artistry with which Redcar reaches back for lost innocence. Angelic.