If it wasn’t obvious from pre-release singles New York and Los Ageless, St Vincent makes a big, fat pop play on her fifth album.
For the first time since her debut album, Annie Clark has mainly worked with someone other than indie super-producer John Congleton (Angel Olsen, Swans), and her decision to go with Lena Dunham’s other half Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde) was concerning at first. Would he take St Vincent’s edginess away? Just how much of a pop sheen would he add?
Fear not, the truth is if you take away the fact the singles sound a little glossy at first, in essence this a St Vincent record through and through: weird, wonderful and inventive. More interestingly, closer investigation reveals it to be as close to a break up album as we’ve heard from Clark. And yes, when that ex might be model Cara Delevingne it does induce a little morbid voyeurism.
Second track Pills is the key that unlocks the album, both as its best single to date, and as the record’s first proper banger. The irresistible horns (Kamasi Washington guests on sax) and jingle-like lyrics dealing with our 21st century pharma-fascination (“Pills to wake, pills to sleep… pills to fuck, pills to eat,” sung by Delevingne) are a perfect re-introduction to the strange world of Clark. That it then falls over itself into a long, sluggish comedown during the second half is too clever. Big tick.
Up next, title track Masseduction reveals the album’s mission statement (“I can’t turn off what turns me on”) on a Talking Heads-inspired number that betters her work with that band’s frontman David Byrne (2012’s Love This Giant). But it’s Sugarboy that really brings the quirk, with a pulsating techno beat that hits you in the core muscles, inducing irresistible dancing.
They’re all part of a wondrous opening half that also includes Los Ageless and piano ballad Happy Birthday, Johnny (if the couplet “‘Annie how could you do this to me?’ … Of course I blame me” doesn’t punch you in the guts, you’re probably not paying enough attention).
Perhaps other than second album Actor (still her best, in this writer’s opinion), Clark has struggled to keep up momentum in the second half of her records, failing to match the creative ideas she leads with. Unfortunately, Masseduction is no exception. There are highlights, however: New York the most obvious one. Is Delevingne “the only motherfucker in the city that can handle me”? Perhaps. A few things are for certain though; she’s lost a hero, a friend, and “New York isn’t New York without you, love”.
Savior, on the other hand, gives us an insight into Clark’s weirder tendencies. What is otherwise a throwaway track, its inclusion is somewhat justified by fun, kinky role play lyrics like “You dress me up in a nurse’s outfit” and “Ruler and a desk so I can make it hurt”. Annie!
The almost industrial Fear the Future and lyrically potent Young Lover (“Young lover, I miss the taste of your tongue/ Young lover, I wish your love was enough”) make way for a pair of ballads to end the album, of which Slow Disco is the pick. “Am I thinking what everybody’s thinking?” Clark asks, but it’s the eerie final verse to Smoking Section that will leave you uncomfortably on ledge. “Sometimes I go to the edge of my roof and I think I’ll jump just to punish you,” she sings.
Be grateful for the fact that she fades into the ether repeating “It’s not the end…” over and over, reducing her darkest thoughts to the almost-relatable passing moments that characterise our very worst break ups, and making this her most personal album to date in the process.