St. Vincent MASSEDUCTION album review: Annie Clark continues to explore and push the envelope

Prahlad Srihari

Oct,16 2017 15:00 00 IST

With her wit acquiring a sharper edge, lyrics darker, aesthetics more Dadaist and music more infectious than ever, Annie “St. Vincent” Clark just released MASSEDUCTION, arguably the best album of the year.

After having secluded herself in her "monastic fantastic", she promised us “the deepest, boldest work” she’s ever done filled with songs about “sex and drugs and sadness”.

And she duly delivers a compelling and provocative record stocked with delightful paradoxes set in a "sexy Pee-wee's Playhouse."

St. Vincent released her fifth album, MASSEDUCTION on Friday the 13th. Twitter/@st_vincent

St. Vincent released her fifth album, MASSEDUCTION on Friday the 13th (October). Twitter/@st_vincent

Using her newfound celebrity status — her made-for-tabloid relationship and break-up with model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne — as a vehicle of subversion, MASSEDUCTION acts as a timely Weinsteinian condemnation three years after her Einsteinian archetype released her genre-defying self-titled album.

In her new album, the Tulsa-born multi-instrumentalist juxtaposes pain and pleasure with an eclectic mix of genres and sounds. It is an indefinable mash-up of pronounced guitar distortion, hooky drum beats and meditative piano chords amid layers of cascading electronics.

St. Vincent continues to explore and push the envelope beyond her whimsical musicianship. She tries on various personas like hats at a thrift store to see which one fits best.

In Strange Mercy, she was “the housewife on pills”. In St. Vincent, she was ‘the near-future cult leader”.

Her newly adopted avatar seems like Barbarella stuck in a David Lynch movie.

Even her hairdos have been through various mutations like “the Audrey Hepburn with anger issues,” “the Nick Cave minus the receding hairline” and “the Lara-Flynn-Boyle-in-the-90s.”

Despite this extensive exercise and various aesthetic ch-ch-changes, the 35-year-old Berklee-dropout has not compromised on her artistic integrity.

Taking on a more autobiographical narrative, the album's opening track Hang On Me is a bass-heavy elegiac ballad about a desperate attempt to save a relationship. The tragicomic Pills deals with our propensity to self-medicate our pain and anxieties. Imitating the sounds of a marketing jingle, it is also an outcry against the influence of Big Pharma and the systematic political failure. Cara “Little Monkey” Delevingne sings the ironic chorus and it culminates in a sombre lamentation on Kamasi Washington’s sax.

With Masseduction, St. Vincent perfectly integrates disquieting lyrics and lurid imagery among a mesh of electronic textures. Sugarboy reveals a woman comfortable with her gender fluidity, at least conceptually.

There is a discernible honesty to the futuristic parable that is Los Ageless. Trapped alone in a vain, plastic city, the musician laments in a dulcet outro her inability to write a love song. Happy Birthday Johnny is St. Vincent at her most vulnerable as she writes a heartrending ode to perhaps a long-lost friend while recalling some bitter memories. Savior epitomises the artist’s characteristic post-pop genre. It progresses from a kinky dress-up game into a commentary on identity politics and gender subversiveness.

Regardless of whether or not it is a love song to Delevingne, New York is replete with tenderness in its verses which heralds a doleful shift into the chorus of “I have lost a hero. I have lost a friend. But for you, darling, I'd do it all again” as the strings swell and you can hear the pain in St. Vincent’s voice as she croons.

St. Vincent performs during Fear the Future Tour to promote her album. Twitter/@st_vincent

St. Vincent performs during Fear the Future Tour to promote her album. Twitter/@st_vincent

St. Vincent’s virtuoso guitar skills are on full display in the oracular Fear The Future. The album tour bears the same title and the track has all the makings of a pop anthem. Young Lover is a bass guitar and synth-laden melody that emphasizes the agony of finding your lover conked out presumably due to drug overdose.

Following a short strings prelude and a poignant waltz-like melody in Slow Disco, she concludes the album with a suicide note of sorts in Smoking Section. She hints at her depression and expresses an urgency to jump off the ledge. But, perhaps, in a moment of epiphany, she conquers her demons and steps back. "It's not the end," she convinces herself as the song ends in a more hopeful outro.

St. Vincent has created a thing of haunting beauty in MASSEDUCTION by revealing her most personal turmoils in her most accessible album till date. Persisting with a consciously experimental direction and a futuristic pop template, she has synthesized her creative force into 13 sublime songs, all singularly so glorious that they may perhaps change the course of pop music forever.