More about: St Vincent
In a series of amusing videos posted on St Vincent’s social media pages in the run up to her latest release, the artist selected a series of tedious, monotonous interview questions to answer before providing deadpan responses. “Are you Annie Clark or St Vincent?” asked one. “Honestly, you’d have to ask her,” was the evasive response. “What’s it’s like being a woman in music?” asked another, before a close up zoomed in on her bright yellow nails which spelt out F*** OFFF.
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It didn’t end there. Inviting journalists into a bright pink Tardis-like interview box over the summer, she deliberately put the interviewers into uncomfortable positions hoping this would result in a more interesting exchange. “There’s only so many times you can quote your Wikipedia page at someone,” she told a BBC journalist, whilst sipping a drink with a straw fashioned into a ‘no’ shape simply to “save time.” Whenever anyone tried to get to the real St Vincent/Annie Clark, the questions were deflected, answers ambiguous. Yet questions about identity are, ironically, at the very heart of her latest album Masseduction.
At least that’s what it seems like. As with all things St Vincent, you never do really quite know and that’s what makes it interesting. It is at once her most personal and most oblique record to date combining gut-wrenching break up ballads with up-beat art pop. The ballads shatter emotionally with the most delicate, gossamer accompaniments; the art pop thrills as it channels David Bowie, 80’s Georgio Moroda, and art-pop pioneers, LCD Soundsystem.
Masseduction is a work of genius light years ahead of its indie, rock and pop counterparts. St Vincent’s unashamed move into pop is a Bowie-like masterstroke with hit after hit emerging: teaming up with Bleacher’s frontman and Lorde producer Jack Antanoff has proven a powerful move.
Opening song ‘Hang on Me’ hints at some of the personal issues St Vincent has faced over the last few years since her 2014 self-titled album. A story of breakup – “you and me / we’re not meant for this world” – and addition, “yeah I admit, I’ve been drinking,” you hear St Vincent at her most vulnerable, voice cracking amongst muffled, fuzzy synths that hint of a very quiet, but very profound, emotional breakdown. As introductions go, it’s pretty devastating.
From this we are frantically propelled into the brilliant comedic madness of ‘Pills’, a nursery rhyme on speed. “Pills pill pills and a good stiff drink / pills to f***, pills to eat / Pills, pills, pills down the kitchen sink,” the hysterical chorus sings. With ex-girlfriend Carla Delevingne on vocals, the song hints at the burnout which followed St Vincent’s manic touring schedule a few years ago; self-medicating became the norm. Its theatrical ending channels a Bohemian-Rhapsody like epilogue.
An objectified glare is never far away in Masseduction, something that her relationship with Delevingne brought much of. Here, St Vincent scoffs at it, be it in the leopard print leotard-cladded backside that dominates the album cover or the single legs which peak through curtains, peep-show like, during live performances. Masseduction is about artists and individuals being reduced to parts, not wholes and the album additionally becomes a pervasive narrative on objectification and sex in the process. The title song ‘Masseduction’ channels Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call, whereas the Prince-esque ‘Saviour’ sees St Vincent exploring the dress-up box as the protagonist plays with kink and different identities: the teacher, the nun, the nurse. “None of this shit fits”, she sings, just as you attempt to identify – and judge – the protagonist.
The incredible Los Ageless is an upbeat but devastating break up lament, all crunchy guitars and drum machines. “How can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind” she crushingly sings. ‘New York’ destroys as she painfully sings over a lone piano “I have lost a hero / I have lost a friend.” Describing it as being like a “disco in your bed crying,” it’s similar in emotional punch to ‘Happy Birthday Johnny.’ Of course, Johnny is the re-occurring figure who St Vincent has never revealed the identity of, but this is yet another song of loss. ‘Smoking Section’ and ‘Dancing Disco’ are equally sad. On the latter, she sings: “slip my hand, from your hand, leave you dancing with a ghost.”
Whilst essentially a break up album, Masseduction explores identities and the power we attach to those identities: the drug addict, the protagonist into kink, the forlorn Johnny, the girl dancing in a cage with a guitar. “Identities do not remain the same, they are frequently contradictory and they cross cut one another…they locate us differently at different moments,” the cultural theorist Stuart Hall once said. Clark is a number of characters on this album and of course we’ll never know which one, if any, she truly is. But like all things with St Vincent, that is of course, the point. It’s having all of those identities at once that result in the power of Masseduction – whoever St Vincent is, it’s an identity of her own making, and not ours.
More about: St Vincent