It is not easy to get a handle on Annie Clark, aka St Vincent.
On this occasion, Clark has again taken another leap into the dark with her new album, Masseduction, released on 13th October. Specifically, for example, she has thrown her long-time fans a curveball by largely eschewing guitars for drum machines, pianos and synths.
On the other hand her lyrics are more candid; when she sings hauntingly about lost relationships, sex and death, it can almost feel like you are invading on her privacy. “If you want to know about my life, listen to this record,” she recently said.
On top of this is a new and bright technicolor aesthetic, which is replete with references to big social themes, such as the rise in plastic surgery, alienation, and the absurdity of celebrity culture. Inevitably the images, like almost everything she does, are shot through with her sharp, wry, and often twisted sense of humour. Even the album cover, as one critic noted, practically invites the public to kiss her ass.
New York had previously been released, as the first single from the album, to widespread critical acclaim. On this track she laments the loss of someone important in her life, who some have claimed may be a reference to the actress and model Cara Delevingne. The orchestration of this ballad is designed to invoke a dream-like state of yearning and pull at the heartstrings, which it does. The lyric “I have lost a hero, I have lost a friend” emphasises this, but listeners are then suddenly brought up short by the line “You’re the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me.” It is worth taking a listen to the live acoustic version of this song (see the video list below this article), which I think benefits considerably from the frailty of her singing only accompanied by her acoustic guitar.
The second single release, the wonderful Los Ageless, seems to take us directly over to the other side of the US, where we are invited to ponder on issues such as superficiality and the objectification of women. In one image on the video, Clark is pictured in a black pvc dress endlessly shredding the word ‘No’ through a machine, while in another she watches in her armchair as bare female legs extend out, and then waggle, from a television screen in front of her. Heartbreak is not too distant here, either: “How can anybody have you and lose you, and not lose their minds, too?” On the other hand, it is on this track where she returns to her six string, possibly with her Ernie Ball Music Man signature guitar, to great effect after the chorus.
On the next song, Happy Birthday Johnny, we can also enjoy some tasteful Pedal Steel by the great Greg Leisz (Wilco, Beck, Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen…). On Saviour Clark shifts the mood to a lighter, more funky style, in order to delve into the world of fetishism. Evoking people dressed up as nuns, teachers and nurses allows her to muse on alienation and disconnectedness because, as she sings amusingly, “none of this shit fits.” On the other hand, this song provides a very strong connection with her own past because her relatives, Tuck and Patti Andress - with whom she used to tour as a girl - both play on the track.
The perversion continues apace on the title track, Masseduction, with its great line: “I can’t turn off what turns me on." The album then closes on a considerably more sombre tone when, in Smoking Section, she talks about the possibility of throwing herself off a roof. OK. But Clark is currently riding an enormous wave of self-validity and has, one way or another, managed to steer her career from marginal cult indie figure to mainstream pop success.
Yes, it is certainly difficult to get a handle on Annie Clark. She is unpredictable and sows confusion in everything she does.
But that is, I suspect, exactly how she likes it.