Christine and the Queens transcends Modern Pop in New Album Paranoïa, Angels, True Love

It doesn’t feel right to classify Christine and the Queens‘ latest release as an album, because Paranoïa, Angels, True Love eclipses all notions of the modern album. Its runtime alone, an intimidating hour and thirty-six minutes, is enough to make the argument that it is more of an auditory odyssey. The soundscape offers a brilliant, tragic, hopeful, sexy, raw journey through grief, spiritual enlightenment, transformation, and the purest, truest love. 

This ambitious project acts as a follow up to Chris’ Redcar les adorables étoiles (prologue), which seemed universally misunderstood upon its release. Where that album fell short, Paranoïa, Angels, True Love hits a sweet spot of resonance and challenge. One possible explanation for the dissonance felt upon the arrival of Redcar is that it was never meant to stand alone. Rather, it seems as though it is the prologue to this musical body. It sets the context and acts as a caesura between Chris’ fairly straightforward pop albums that garnered notoriety and this new era of exploration and freedom. 

Paranoïa, Angels, True Love is experimental in a way that feels like a natural progression from Redcar. Chris grew up studying theater and stage direction, which has always been evident in his moving live performances. Now, Chris flexes his dramaturgy in a radical way. This album, which was inspired by Angels In America—Tony Kushner’s play about the AIDS crisis among the gay community in the 1980s—loosely follows the journey of Chris as he navigates the grief of losing his mother and the comfort of discovering that she is all around him. 

Throughout the record, Chris wades in a sea of glistening synths, expresses his obsessions with angels through dreamy piano strokes, and cocoons himself in heavenly guitar riffs. It’s a long album; admittedly you have to be receptive to the story in order to get out of it what Chris has put into it, but we don’t all have the time or desire to do such a thing. If that’s the case, there are still options for you, because ultimately, this album is masterfully crafted regardless of its fuller purpose. If you want to sidestep the grandiose epic, but still want to engage with this new Chris, my suggestions are “A day in the water,” “Flowery days,” “Let me touch you once (feat. 070 Shake),” and “Lick the light out (feat. Madonna).” 

“Lick the light out (feat. Madonna)” nears the end of the album and acts as a culmination of all the scared and grief stricken but hopeful and lively moments that make this body of work worthy of praise. Madonna acts as a literal holy mother watching over Chris and the angels surrounding him. Madonna, in all of her omnipotent motherhood, tests Chris with “Do you want to chase me away? I’m dwelling in your sorry, broken, crazy, raging heart.”  Now unmoored, Chris rebuts, “If an angel in silence decided just to free me, could I get that sweet power?” 

It’s hard to criticize something that feels unreachable. The album is intentionally ambiguous. Chris has been known to write songs quickly and freely, almost as an act of purging or meditation. For this record, his process involved recording immediately upon waking up, creating a sort of liminal space between a dream state and a corporeal one. He worked with pop producing powerhouse, Mike Dean (Lana Del Rey, Beyoncé, Kanye West), to create a body of music that feels like an entirely separate world from the one we live in. 

If I’m being honest, I’m still processing and trying to make sense of all of these songs. The act of listening to this music piece feels like a dedication to transformation. It takes patience and the intricacies of the production ensure a degree of continued evolution as more time is spent with the art. 

Certainly there’s more to gain from this album if you’re experiencing it intertextually, with the knowledge of Angels in America. I am unfamiliar with the play and I found this album to be hard to sit through on the first listen, but patience is rewarded. I went back on my second listen and relinquished control, critique, and decided to let the art move me. In turn, I felt closer to understanding Chris’ soul. 

It’s easy to be dismissive of music that feels inaccessible or self-important, but this album was created out of necessity. Chris was dropped into this operatic fable without so much as a pair of angel wings but he doesn’t fall. It’s the love surrounding him that provides the soft landing he needs in order to survive.

Paranoïa, Angels, True Love is out tomorrow, June 9th, on Because Music.

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