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Christine And The Queens
Redcar Les Adorables Étoiles Matthew Horton , November 17th, 2022 10:11

A new direction from Christine And The Queens feels tentative, but far from joyless, finds Matthew Horton

The chat surrounding this third proper album from French synth-pop auteur Christine And The Queens has revolved incessantly around identity, whether it's about the artist coming out as a trans man earlier this summer, or the adoption of the name Redcar. Album title, artist's name, it's also an emblem of hope, linked to the singer perpetually spotting red cars in the aftermath of his mother's death in 2019. In that light, it's unavoidably a symbol of sadness too and Redcar les adorables étoiles leans in that direction.

Sadness, romance, the two decisively connected. Redcar opens the album with 'Ma bien aimée bye bye' ('My beloved bye bye' in its provided English translation) a paean to a lost love who's possibly his former self. "My wife 'til I die," he laments. It's one of just a few non-French lyrics peppered across the record, a shift from the days when 2015 debut Chaleur Humaine and its 2018 follow-up Chris both had full English and French-language releases.

With its slow-disco hi-hat and splashy snares, 'Ma bien aimée bye bye' sets a sedate groove that the rest of the album never quite picks up. There's no irresistible '80s soul-funk like 'Girlfriend', nor a sprightly dance-routine-friendly hit like 'Tilted'. Instead, the pace is usually and resolutely stately, synths towering forbiddingly on 'Les étoiles' – an intro in search of a song – and rumbling bassily on 'La chanson du chevalier', one of a couple of tracks ('Combien de temps' is the other) where Redcar harks back to knights of antiquity. Searching for a hero? An old-fashioned romantic reverie? 'La clairefontaine' treads that kind of ground as well, its title a nod to a 17th century French children's song, its lyrics a surrender to love everlasting. It's also one of the lovelier numbers on Redcar, with its wet Paisley Park beats and glitterball warmth.

That's a brighter – albeit melancholy – moment complemented by the shimmering 'Rien dire', the catchiest melody here, recalling Chris's exquisite '5 Dollars', and 'Mémoire des ailes', which is the sweetest song of the lot. Its unexpected swoops evoke the wings ('ailes') remembered in its title. Redcar's nostalgic again, but dreaming of something that was never there, and just feels like it should have been. 'Looking for love' follows, unfulfilled longing behind its thumping beats, the most propulsive track on the record.

So, self-evidently, this isn't a laugh-filled comedy hour, but you've got to hope Redcar's having fun here and there. 'Combien de temps' translates as 'How much time?', and its oozing, virtuosic drift goes nowhere with any sense of haste for eight-and-a-half minutes, presumably sending up its title. Towards the end of the track, there's a pun on waves licking the 'coque' (hull) of a boat, with Redcar using its English homophone in his handwritten lyrics. See? Jokes.

Once this epic's left us, late sparks of flashy guitar in its wake, it's almost surprising when Redcar carries on, but so it does, with three songs that struggle to impinge on the memory. The story goes that Redcar took just a fortnight to record, and as its initial release approached it found itself kicked another couple of months down the road. It's tempting to wonder if there was time to sharpen it up, prune a stray branch, because this feels like a work-in-progress. With a fast follow-up reportedly scheduled for early next year, maybe that's exactly what it is.