Review by Laura Cooper
The multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Annie Clark has been performing under the name St Vincent since 2006, but Clark’s musical persona has undergone considerable change. Her first three albums showed influences from indie, to jazz, to experimental rock, in the melding of Clark’s glass-delicate vocals, piano and her virtuoso guitar shredding. She won praise for her guitar skills, but her strange opaque lyrics about love and cruelty may have alienated her from a rock audience, though she was appreciated by the likes of David Byrne whom she collaborated with. However, her fourth album, St Vincent, gave her considerable acclaim. This album saw her adopt a David Bowie-esque white-haired cult-leader persona and featured a much more varied musical style. However, between the release of her last album and her current, Masseduction, Clark became well known for something other than her music. She was in a relationship with, and then broke up with, one of the most famous models in the world – Cara Delevingne. Whilst most profiles of her tactfully ignore this in favour of her music, her experience of heartbreak and the prying eyes of the tabloid evidently fed into her new album.
Masseduction is, despite its rakish title, an album of great emotional breadth. Clark has said in interviews that she records most of her albums by retreating into the studio; her careful exploration of her personal feelings is evident throughout the album. This opening track, “Hang On Me” starts as a drunk late-night phone call to an ex, which circles around a poetic chorus of “you and me/ we’re not meant for this world”. The track “Pills” starts as an over-caffeinated ad jingle about the ubiquity of pharmaceutical dependence, with Clark’s guitar as sharp as a saw. Then the track mellows out – like a downer – and reveals a confessional vulnerability; “Come kiss me stupid, come kiss me sore”. The title track is a Glam Rock style exploration of desire. Clark has stated that the phrase “masseduction” is a pun which conflates the seduction of the masses and mass destruction – a revealing statement which communicates the album’s wider concern with the meaning of sensuality, power and vulnerability. “Los Ageless” is a Glam Rock and New Wave influenced satire on Hollywood which could be a lost David Bowie track. “New York” is a remarkable ballad about mourning the end of a relationship, which could become a frequently covered classic. The closing track “Smoking Section” is a much uglier break-up song, featuring a mournful piano and dolorous vocals, such as the destructively passive “And when you stomp me out, I scream and I’ll shout/ Let it happen, let it happen, let it happen”. The album ends with the refrain “It’s not the end” sung by Clark as if she is trying to convince herself of a future beyond heartbreak.
Emotionally perceptive, varied and clever, Masseduction is a remarkable creative achievement which shows that Clark is inheriting the legacy of Prince and David Bowie, the great innovative musicians of the last forty years.