Messy, funky, New York sleaze
On 2017’s Masseduction Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, plumped for drum machines and synths, while on her latest offering - Daddy’s Home (14 May 2021; Loma Vista Recordings) - guitar and a sumptuous group of female backing vocalists take precedence.
Lyrically, ‘sleaze, alienation and popping pills’ are still major themes, but ‘LA plastic surgery culture’ has here been replaced by ‘Daddy’ as the main focus of attention. This is manifested in two ways: firstly, by the fact that her father has recently been released from a 10-year stretch for financial fraud and secondly, because the 70s funk and soul vibe of this album has been heavily influenced by his record collection. From what you can hear, Sly and the Family Stone’s Stand!, David Bowie’s Young Americans and Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill were almost certainly among them, although the spirit of a myriad of other artists are present here, including Joni Mitchell and Pink Floyd.
What continues to pervade St Vincent’s lyrics and accompanying videos though is her dark wit, which thankfully is everywhere to be seen. On the title track, for example, she obliquely references a trip to Seagoville’s Federal Correctional Institution, where she signed autographs while waiting to see her dad. “You did some time, well I did some time too,” she sings, before the disturbingly seductive refrain of ‘Daddy’s home’ comes to the fore. Co-producer Jack Antonoff must have wondered where exactly she was taking him on this particular trip…
Perhaps part of the answer comes in the glam-influenced opening track Pay Your Way in Pain, in which the sound of desire in her voice - when she wholeheartedly starts singing the words ‘I wanna be loved’ - is gradually replaced by a darker scream. In the video she swipes her hand across her face and turns away in disgust, reinforcing the humour and contradictions that run through a large part of her work. It’s a track you’ll likely end up having on repeat.
Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and various female musical icons are referenced on the mellow The Melting of the Sun – on which she plays her Ernie Ball signature, - though I much prefer the wonderfully funky Down that follows.
My Baby Wants a Baby darkly plays with the chorus of Sheena Easton’s 9 to 5, again twisting something wholesome into something dark, this time by slowing the music down to a snail’s pace. At 38, it almost feels like Ms Clark is considering the idea of domesticity, but her doubts about taking that particular step are laid bare in the lyric: “My baby wants a baby – how can it be wrong? But I wanna play guitar all day, make all my meals in microwaves.”
…At the Holiday Party is another outstanding track, which builds in tempo as it relates the things people do ‘to get by’. She explains, for example, that her friend’s “little purse [is like] a pharmacy”, but the drugs just cover up the problem: “[You] pretend to want these things, so no one sees you not getting, not getting, what you need,” Clark intones with emotion and sisterly concern. The fat horns provide a wonderful contrast to the gentleness of the melody and her glorious singing.
The album closes with Candy Darling, in a nod to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. The music features lap steel, electric sitar, and flutes, while Kenya Hathaway – daughter of soul singer Donny Hathaway – backs St Vincent on vocals, but it is one of the weaker tracks on an otherwise strong album.
Clark has described Daddy’s Home as being “post-flower-child idealism, but pre-disco,” which she argues is “analogous to where we are now. We’re in the grimy, sleazy, trying-to-figure-out-where-we-go-from-here period.” It is a contradictory and difficult moment and the album is also gritty and messy, but the music is often great and the lyrics stimulating, dark and witty, and in that sense this retro-sounding record is, in fact, exactly what we need...