|The Ballad of Queen Cristina|
Some things can’t be said often enough. There are
some salvage operations you should always take careful note of, like LTM
and Honest Jons. I urge you to check out their recent reissues from The
Room and Willie Hightower respectively.
There are other imprints, like Acute, that you should support as a point of principle. Following the Acute series of Metal Urbain and Glenn Branca related reissues, the great Dan Selzer is to resurrect the Prefects’ recordings. Praise be!
Anything on the reactivated Ze label is equally essential. When Michel Esteban reignited his label of love, our most fervent Ze plea was for all Cristina’s recordings to be salvaged. And now here they are, and as gorgeous as ever.
Along with Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Cristina was the Ze queen. They were the sassiest, sexiest, brightest and boldest of pop performers. Their Ze recordings are the most exotic, the most erotic, funniest and funkiest things around still! Even Siouxsie and Madonna, let alone Saint Etienne and Kylie, pale into insignificance compared to Lizzy and Cristina.
The first Cristina LP (here packaged as Doll In The Box) caught a moment and mood perfectly. As the ‘70s became the ‘80s, to counter a possible perception of post-punk drabness, people played with ideas of new torch songs that were a whirl of Hollywood musical glamour, symphonic disco swirl, Parisian demi-monde, New York art underground, Berlin decadence, and punk subversiveness. And the glamorous Ms Cristina Monet rode that wave perfectly poised, grinding a stiletto heel into the palm of anyone miserable enough to attempt to knock her off her perch as she pirouetted through the absurdly arch Ze follies, vamping it up something wonderfully rotten, with August Darnell (aka Kid Creole) stage left suavely conducting the spectacle.
It still sounds wonderful (and it includes a Michel Polnareff cover years before that was a cool thing to do), but it was notoriously overshadowed by Cristina’s rendition of the Leiber/Stoller torch standard, 'Is That All There Is?' which its composers suppressed for its blasphemy, the mean-spirited spoilsports. Now it’s a bonus track on Doll In The Box in all its knowing naughtiness.
The closest Cristina came to a hit was 'Things Fall Apart', a showstopper that Siouxsie swore by, a bleak midwinter ballad that came as part of the great Ze Christmas record. This collaboration with the Brothers Was was a precursor for what is now the great lost Cristina set, Sleep It Off. Well, I lost my copy years ago, and hardly anyone else even knew it was ever released, which makes it all the riper for rediscovery.
The press pack that accompanies the Cristina reissues contains some lovely quotes from Don Was about the Cristina collaborations, suggesting they were intimidated by her presence, and felt “intellectually dwarfed”. I love it!
So, if the first LP was Cristina playing out the coquettish role, the sophomore set is that of a scathing sophisticate ready with the withering aphorism. Sleep It off is all elegant asperity and vituperative weariness. Imagine Lauren Bacall sings the blues! With some Brecht and country thrown in for good measure.
It is a record that sounds very much of its time, production-wise, and in an ideal world the would-be-hits would keep those over familiar songs of Cyndi Lauper and Sheryl Crow company on heavy rotation on every all-time-favourites easy listening radio station. The songs contain some of the best put-downs and pithy throwaways that Lee Hazelwood never wrote. And indeed it would have been lovely to hear Nancy sing Cristina’s 'He Dines Out On Death' as part of her recent return to action, or at the very least more Thurston but that’s another story.
So hopefully with these records back in circulation Cristina’s time has come at last. It would at least make me happy to hear her outrageous 'What’s A Girl To Do' livening up your day. But what’s she up to now?
© 2004 John Carney