Cristina Monet was a socialite who'd married the heir to the Mothercare fortune, Michael Zilkha, who'd gone on to found Ze Records in the hope of releasing records that mixed punk and disco. Although Cristina was stunningly beautiful and did some modelling for the likes of Louis Vuitton, she was no dumb bimbo (she was a prize-winning graduate from Harvard) as she was to prove with her clever lyrics. She released 2 albums and a couple of singles in the early 1980s but despite good reviews and celebrity fans such as Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux, her career failed to take off. She retired from music and she and Michael divorced in 1990.
Now Ze Records have released both her albums. Each album features bonus tracks and a booklet detailing her career (each album's booklet has different photos in it). I'd only ever heard her version of "Is That All There Is?" so I'd dismissed her as a one-hit wonder albeit a brilliant one. But on the strength of a rave review in Attitude I bought both albums and I'm so glad I did.
This is a re-release of Cristina's first album, now retitled Doll in the Box. It also features bonus tracks of the singles she released at the time, Disco Clone and Is That All There Is? plus a previously unreleased cover version of Drive My Car. The album was produced by August Darnell (better known as Kid Creole of Kid Creole and the Coconuts) and he wrote most of the songs on it. They are all fairly classic disco tracks with a lush theatrical quality to them and odd hints of a tropical/Latin influence. Which would be more than enough to sound completely camp without Cristina cooing her way through the extremely funny and completely over-the-top Disco Clone in response to Kevin Kline's mock deadpan seriousness and songs like Don't Be Greedy (where Cristina tells a lover who wants an open relationship --- "Don't ask me to share you with another mate. I'm not that liberal and you're not that great.")
For the most part, it works extremely well although I'm guessing the songs sound at their best in a nightclub environment. Preferably doing the hustle with Liza and Andy one coke-fuelled night at Studio 54. I thought the light-hearted campness rather spoiled her version of Drive My Car but maybe that's just me. I'd always imagined someone like Lydia Lunch doing a cover of this and making it sound all sleazy and dark and fantastic. Funnily enough, that's exactly what Cristina managed to do on her infamous cover version of Is That All There Is? (the Leiber and Stoller song popularised by Peggy Lee). In fact, the songwriters were so appalled by the deadpan nihilism of her update that they threatened to sue and the record was withdrawn on its first day of release. Her version comes across as a Brechtian parody and was cited as one of the funniest records ever made by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Its rarity also made it one of the most requested songs on Radio 1 for a couple of years in the 1980s. It was this song which hinted at the greatness of Cristina's second album.
Tangents, the website that bills itself as the home of unpopular culture, has a two part article about the reissues and the author's experience of meeting Cristina recently.
Part One and Part Two
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2005.