Cristina Monet-Palaci, known professionally as Cristina, the daughter of a French « neo-Freudian » psychoanalyst and an American illustrator-novelist-playwright, was a Harvard College dropout (where she won the History and Literature Prize in her sophomore year) who studied playwriting under William Alfred (« Hogan's Goat »), wrote theater criticism for the Village Voice, and considers Bertolt Brecht's « Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny » one of the prime reasons that « German theater is the best theater in the whole world».
At The Village Voice Cristina met Michael Zilkha, an Oxford-educated person of inherited wealth, heir to England's Mothercare retail empire. Zilkha was just starting ZE Records with Michel Esteban. Zilkha persuaded her to record a song called Disco Clone, an eccentric pastiche dance record. The original recording, released as ZE001, was produced by John Cale and was the first to be issued on the ZE label, on a limited 1500 ex 12 single edition.
A later version featured the uncredited Kevin Kline was recorded with Bob Blank and mixed by Islands Chris Blackwell. Melody Maker picked this « artfully dumb » debut as its Record of the Week ! The Observer Color Supplement labeled it « outrageously stylish. »
« Disco Clone » was a cult success and encouraged ZE to hired August Darnell (aka Kid Creole) to work on future material for a debut album. Cristina followed that single with a radical re-working of Leiber & Stoller's existential classic, « Is That All There Is? » So unique was Cristina's take on the song that lawyers for Lieber & Stoller imposed an injunction on the record.
Richard Williams writing in Melody Maker took it a lot better, calling it « the most remarkable single of the month. » Boston's Real Paper hailed it as « the funniest and scariest record of the year. » For months it received saturation airplay in Boston and L.A. and remains to this day Britain's most requested record on Radio One.
Then ZE released a 12 inch latin cover of The Beatles « Drive my Car », produced by August Darnell and arranged by his brother Stony Browder Jr. giving a taste of « Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band » their original band.
Cristina debut album in 1980 with August Dranell behind the desk and most of the future Kid Creole band was a marriage of Darnell's disquieting barrio swing and Cristina's arrogant wit - it was simply extraordinary. Because you've never heard an album more madly danceable and intelligent at the same time.
In 1981 for ZE Christmas Album Cristina recorded in Detroit « Things Fall appart », a pithy, haunting, horrific piece of work with a memorably dissonant chorus. Her first collaboration with the Was Brothers. « Things Fall appart » was also released as a 12 inch single.
Cristina's second album, « Sleep it Off », was produced by Don Was and released in 1984 with a sleeve design by Jean-Paul Goude (a year before he used the same idea for Grace Jones). Besides her cover of the Van Morrison tune, the country and western hit « She Can't Say That Anymore » and Brech-Weill's « Ballad Of Immoral Earnings, » the lyrics on the LP are all Cristina, with music by the LP's producer Don Was, Doug Frieder (from The Knack), and Barry Reynolds and Ben Brierley (both of Marianne Faithfull's band).
Cristina, Don Was, and the rest of the musicians worked on the LP in a flea-bitten studio in Detroit. The music they came up with ranges from Dylanesque ballads like « He Dines Out On Death » to the punky rock 'n' roll of « Don't Mutilate My Mink». Cristina's voice is alternately haunting, angry and melancholic. Her stance is undeniably worldly but traces of vulnerability peak through.
Though the LP includes a wide variety of musical material and lyrical points of view, Cristina feel there is a main theme which ties it all together. « The whole album is about coping with sex and money and power plays in the 1980's, » she says. « In the sixties people survived on political idealism. In the seventies there was this obsession with 'lifestyle' - women's lib or a new religion, sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, or a macrobiotic diet. Something was always THE ANSWER. In the eighties people are into power and money and narcissism because they don't know what else to believe in. I don't think the album has a cynical take on this. I guess I just believe that whatever's going on, trying to exist is a pretty trying business. Life knocks you down, all you can do is get back up, brush yourself off, cry a little, laugh a little and keep going ».
In 1984 Christopher Connelly wrote in his Rolling Stones Review :
« Sleep It Off is not for the MTV crowd, but so what? « My life is in a turmoil/My thighs are black and blue/My sheets are stained, so is my brain/What's a girl to do? ». Buy this record, I'd advise. Class is in session
Unfortunately, the record was so ahead of its time that it flopped; defeated, Cristina retired. In an interview in New York Magazine (2004) she said « I believed the idea that Michael had bought me a career to such an extent that I felt sheepish and guilty, which I shouldn't have been, » she says. « By that point I was a wife and a mother, and then we moved to Texas; I felt like Madame Bovary of the freeway. »
The following two decades were low-key. Cristina divorced Zilkha in 1990 and returned to New York, where she still lives. A nimble writer, she's contributed learned essays and reviews to publications such as London's Times Literary Supplement. She's also made demos for books on tape; these recordings marked the only times she had been in a studio between « Sleep It Off » and an October 2004 session in which she sang on a track called « Urgent Anxious » for Ursula 1000 album.