St Vincent : MASSEDUCTION (Review)

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By Eish Sumra

I wonder what it’s like to be in St Vincent’s head. I imagine an alcoholic infused barrage of color, sounds and unconceivable energy mixed with some 70s rock and some 80s dance. She's so eccentric it's always hard to pin her down. 

Her ambiguity was always intriguing, as was her unapproachable style and panache. In the earlier parts of her career she wanted to keep you at a safe distance, giving just enough of herself so you were hooked, then she wrapped her songs up in metaphor and avant-garde sounds to keep you at bay. Now, on her 5th record, she lets you in, again at times surrounded by a lot of noise and intimidating beats, but her mask has been shed, and she’s never seemed so sincere and so honest.

The conclusion of the last three years is her new effort “MASSEDUCTION." It’s an album, that much like her self-titled predecessor, bursts out of the speakers. This time with a sound infused with the pop creations of the in vogue producer Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde). At its core is quite a bit of heartbreak, likely the product of her much-publicised relationship with supermodel Cara Delevingne. Her influence on St Vincent is most evident on the opening track “Hang On Me” - which she declares in her cling film textured falsetto “you and me, we’re not meant for this world”. This melancholic start is followed by the Janelle Monae styled “Pills” which serves as a mere cautionary tale of fame. “Los Ageless” is a fabulously aggressive Bowie-esque tune that serves as one of St Vincent’s most approachable jaunts in a long time. She questions in the chorus “How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds too?” which presents a brief bit of cathartic release in what could have been a vague track about coping with the starry-eyed city, but ends up being a ferocious explosion of frustration and humiliation.

The most heart-wrenching moments are on her piano ballads, they feel like a welcome breather on a record that doesn’t care about keeping the noise down. “Happy Birthday, Johnny” is a mournful, solitary croon that continues the use of “Johnny” a regular character in her records. The song is quite stunning, even if you occasionally have no idea what she’s talking about. It feels like St Vincent at her most raw and emotive, the result is perhaps her most beautiful song yet, until “New York” that is.

 

The song that started this album’s campaign is her best song yet. As she kicks it off with the yearning of the opening lyrics: “New York isn’t New York without you love”, you can’t help but sense some true heartbreak. In comparison with the west coast track “Los Ageless”, “New York” is quieter, more intimate, less inquisitorial and more reflective. The lyrics “I have lost a hero, I have lost a friend, But for you, darling, I’d do it all again” - hit hard. They strike a strong contrast to her previous album, when her most memorable lyrics concerned masturbating.

This record feels quite scattered and at times inconsistent, it doesn’t have a similar flow to her previous ones, perhaps that’s the point. St Vincent has let out Annie Clarke (her real name), and you see her clearer than ever before. You can’t help but fall in love with her newfound vulnerability. The reasons behind this opening up may be sad, but the results are astounding.

 

Steven Norwalk