Rarely is an artist as multifaceted/multitalented as Christine and the Queens (Chris), and rarely is a multiform talent explored so concisely and beautifully as in La Vita Nuova, her most recent EP.
On her last full length album, she explored the complexity of her identity and the intertwining of her personalities through the male persona of Chris. Men are allowed to be complex characters, but women are put in limiting social boxes that Chris forcefully wanted to break through. Now she has, and it’s where the fun begins.
Although La Vita Nuova maintains a bit of an autobiographical element in that it traverses Chris’ hurt, heartbreak and desire, it shook me as a concise and original exploration of her complex artistic style rather than her complex identity (although can those be separated at all?). She knows who she is, and thus chooses to turn to the intricacy of her artistry, an artistry that can’t be contained in just the sonorous world. The EP is accompanied by a thirteen minute music video directed by Colin Solal Cardo (who, you will not be surprised to hear, also directed the music video for her glorious song with Charli XCX, “Gone”) where Chris sings passionately from different places in Paris’ beautiful Opera building.
In the XIII century text that inspired the album, also titled La Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri accompanies love poems with beautiful prose that explains its context. In a similar vein, the songs in Chris’ EP are accompanied by non-musical artistic components that give them this sort of context. This makes the project a fuller artistic experience, encompassing music, dance, fashion (her suits are otherworldly), film and literature, all while dealing with themes of desire and heartbreak.
Seeing it, I was overcome with the same kind of excitement and awe I got from watching Janelle Monae’s film for Dirty Computer: the excitement of experiencing a spectacular musical and emotional journey come to life through a multi-talented artist that treats queerness not only as a sexual orientation but also as an artistic approach.
The entire video is lovely and complements the music in interesting ways. Her edgy vocals, for example, match her sharp dance moves perfectly, and both cut razor sharp through the dreamy visuals and thick and smokey production. The wholesomeness of the artistic project makes sense if you know her history as an incredible and wildly exciting live performer, but it seems even furthered by her having a stronger and unapologetic hold on her identity and a more concise EP format to express it through.
For starters, there’s the language thing. In the past, she’s released both English and French versions of her albums. Here she merges both, and even adds Spanish and Italian in for good measure (because why not?). No longer is she limited or split by language. Instead, she embraces them all, and gives the EP a multilingual aspect that just adds to the dreamscape she develops (what language do you dream in if you’re multilingual?).
Throughout the EP she keeps the general style she’s gotten so good at – 80s pop repurposed for a modern alternative audience in a Robyn-esque way, probably most noticeable in the first track “People I’ve Been Sad,” where she belts from the roof of the Paris Opera. But then she adds elements that contribute to her style’s heaviness, smokiness, and artistic fullness more than ever before.
In “Je disparais dans tes bras” a dancey “Yeah” sample, shimmery and vaporous synths and interpolated drummy pulses mesh perfectly and pave the way for beautiful lyrics “Dans les pleurs de l’autre / Dans la fontaine de l’autre / Dans la rivière de l’autre” (In the tears of each other, in the fountain of each other, in the river of each other).
In “Mountains (we met)” the production is a bit more minimalistic, but still heavy and certainly smokey and dramatic (unavoidably clear when you watch her smoke-filled Shakespearean performance on the Opera’s stage). Crisp, syncopated drums and her repetition of “mountains and mountains” evoke the long journey of a broken relationship, while Chris undergoes the processing and acceptance needed to let it go. Then, in “Nada,” she opts for a more melodic embellishment, a harp-like arpeggio that draws you deeper into her romantic dreamscape, one that reaches its crescendo in the following title song.
And it really does. “La Vita Nuova” is the conceptual, stylistic and emotional peak of the EP. It starts with Chris alone, enmeshed in a purple haze (which even without the gender bending is certainly reminiscent of Prince) and singing her first Italian lyrics, a beautiful verse oozing desire and demanding a response. She then moves into a kind of bloody and sexy Italian renaissance vampire party, where she gets her response from guest feature Caroline Polachek.
The moment Caroline appears is without a doubt the best moment of the video. She embodies Beatrice, Dante’s lover in La Vita Nuova. As in the book, the most impactful moments of the characters’ romances are the moment their eyes first meet, and (spoiler alert) the moment Beatrice (Caroline) dies. When Caroline first appears, elegant and flawless, Chris’ eyes turn bright red, and the overwhelming desire between them drives them to dance together for the rest of the song. At the end, Chris, now in full horny-vampire mode, can’t help it anymore and bites into Caroline. Caroline (Beatrice) dies, and the music shifts to a great but off-putting, almost devilish outro.