St. Vincent (photo by Nedda Asfari, PR)
The exceedingly innovative world of St. Vincent's Annie Clark is about to reveal a little more of itself. For nearly a decade, Clark has been creating groundbreaking, genre-distorting soundscapes by blending elements of experimental and electronic music with rock, pop and dance.
With Masseduction, her fifth album — she also released a collaboration with David Byrne, Love This Giant, in 2012 — St. Vincent puts her inner world on display. Arriving three and a half years after her 2014 eponymous release, Clark has said that Masseduction would be a deeply personal collection, saying, “If you want to know about my life, listen to this record." Themes of sexuality, relationships, drugs, personal success and other topics weave throughout the album’s 13 songs.
The title track serves as the album’s foundation. “Masseduction” is a short-handed way of saying “mass seduction,” “my seduction” and “mass destruction.” In the song, Clark confesses, “I can’t turn off what turns me on” and “I don’t turn off what turns me on.” We also hear Clark make reference to herself: “Black saint, sinner lady/Playin’ knockoff soul/A punk rock romantic/Slumped on the kitchen floor.”
The album opens with “Hang On Me,” a rumination on the very emotional end of a relationship. An outpouring of a different kind occurs in “Happy Birthday, Johnny.” Johnny, who may very well be “Prince Johnny” from her last album, is battling drug addiction while Clark deals with the ramifications of her own fame. She struggles to help her friend through his addiction. Unfortunately, it’s a struggle that seems to have been lost by song’s end. Drugs and their effect on a relationship is also explored on “Young Lover,” which features Clark's impressive vocal calisthenics. “Pills” uses a deceptively upbeat melody and a nursery rhyme-like chorus to express society’s reliance on medication to get through everyday life.
“Savior” deals lightly with role play and is one of the album’s sexually-charged songs, while “Sugarboy,” finds Clark reflecting on the relationship she has with her fans and has a veiled nod to sexual fluidity.
New York and Los Angeles are both represented on Masseduction, with “New York” being a melancholy ode to the Big Apple and “Los Ageless” delivering a jab at the Hollywood elite, especially the obsession with staying young.
She saves the most personal song for last. “Smoking Section” reveals her vulnerability in lines like: “And sometimes I go to the edge of my roof/And I think I’ll jump just to punish you.” In the end, Clark is not only struggling with outside forces; but she fights with those within, as well.
Clark writes all of the material on Masseduction with contributions from Joy Williams, formerly of the Civil Wars, Sounwave's Mark Anthony Spears, and Jack Antonoff, also known as Bleachers and a former member of the bands fun. and Steel Train. Antonoff and Clark produce the album, with a little help from others.
Clark’s considerable guitar playing skills don’t feature prominently on Masseduction, but when they do emerge, they tear through the musical landscape with buzzing, angular precision. Joining Clark on a few tracks are her aunt and uncle: the jazz pop duo Tuck and Patti. Tuck Andress plays some guitar while Patti Cathcart contributes vocals. The large gathering of musicians on the album also include Antonoff, bassists Pino Palladino and Mike Elizondo, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and both Jenny Lewis and Kid Monkey, an alias for Clark’s former partner, the actress Cara Delevingne.
With Masseduction, St. Vincent strengthens her reputation as an powerful singer, deft songwriter and trailblazing guitarist. She's willing to reveal herself while maintaining some personal privacy, but still gives us us a window into her psyche. With this album, a remarkable artist has become even more extraordinary.