St Vincent – Masseduction review
Anyone who saw Annie Clark in 2005 performing with The Polyphonic Spree knew she had a bright future. Despite their uniform white choir robes, her charisma ensured she stood out, and her 2007 debut, Marry Me, confirmed that promise.
A decade on, the arrival of her fifth solo release finds her little short of a household name: 2014’s acclaimed self-titled album stopped only just short of the American Top 10, and that year she even took on Kurt Cobain’s role for Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
“Masseduction will doubtless sustain her ascent. It’s a carefully crafted, accomplished collection of art-pop perfectly suited to providing as many talking points as singalongs.” – Wyndham Wallace
This was ably demonstrated by lead single New York, which was melodically compelling, intricately arranged – strings and voices swelling elegantly during its chorus – and conspicuously provocative, too.
She’s described the album as “pretty first person”, and if that’s true then she’s spent recent times boozing (Hang On Me declares “I admit I’ve been drinking”), popping pills (Pills, perhaps not surprisingly, is devoted to the subject, with lines delivered by Clark’s ex, Cara Delevingne), and causing trouble (on Sugarboy she’s “a casualty/ Hanging on from the balcony/ Oh here I go/ Making a scene”).
Furthermore, it seems, she’s been struggling with fame: on Happy Birthday, Johnny she confides “You saw me on magazines and TV/ But if they only knew the real version of me”. Perhaps that’s why this album sounds overly controlled: it’s the way she makes sense of the madness.
Even when she cuts loose on the Prince-like Pills – and Clark is a similarly extraordinary guitarist – it sounds calculated, the beats flawlessly measured. The frantic synths of Sugarboy are punctuated by vocal stabs as it slips effortlessly from one virtuoso display to another, and there’s not a note out of place on the rocking Fear The Future.
When she wails on the mournful, string-laden Slow Disco, she still sounds perfectly composed, and it’s only on the closing Smoking Section she appears genuinely vulnerable. Consequently, it’s hard not to experience a little emotional distance from Clark. She remains, however, a consummately thrilling, distant star.