Written By: Andrew Sedo
Originality: (3.0 / 5) Vocals/Flow: (4.5 / 5) Lyrics: (3.0 / 5) Production: (5.0 / 5) Average: (3.9 / 5)
Throughout the course of her previous 4 albums Annie Clark has proven her deftness with arrangements of all types. Her first 2 releases under moniker St. Vincent, Marry Me and Actor, are intimate, innocent, and irresistibly vulnerable. Whereas, Strange Mercy and 2014’s eponymous St. Vincent are experimental, beat driven, and fittingly jarring. As a collection, they are a sublime testament to the growth and confidence of a true artist, who works within traditional boundaries but never fails to deliver something that grabs your attention. To this point, St. Vincent has seemingly hovered above the pitfalls purely manufactured pop, and yet, maintains a longevity of listenability usually beyond the realm of the truly esoteric.
Clark’s 5th release MASSEDUCTION, is a case study in the co-optation of externalized cool. The record opens with the bumping bass of “Hang On Me”, which comes off as a cross between early Massive Attack and wispy, albeit, powerful lyrics contradicted by Clark’s signature wafty style. True blue ballads “Happy Birthday, Johnny”, “New York”, and “Slow Disco” show her incredible range and willingness to look to her past as a form of non-linear progress. Closing track “Smoking Section” is an operatic anti-love anthem fit for the macabre festival age.
As a collection these songs should rightfully assimilate into the St. Vincent canon. However, MASSEDUCTION is a dissociative endeavor. Look no further than the quadrophenia of “Pills”, “MASSEDUCTION”, “Sugarboy”, and “Los Ageless”. Simply by reading the title “Pills” you can already guess the inevitable conclusion. Whether you view it as an at-large social commentary or merely a description of Clark’s whirlwind personal foray into the world of international popularity, it’s equivalently hamfisted. Then we have “MASSEDUCTION” which, is both driven and floating. The title track exposes Clark’s gift for crafting underrated riffs and catchy pop grooves that are uniquely intuitive and widely understandable, yet lacks a St. Vincent style depth. Next comes, “Sugarboy” a club track that moves you with a relatable, if predictable, style, which again, benefits from Clark’s genius in crafting memorable moments from less than ideal ingredients. Finally, “Los Ageless” is another less than subtle hatchet job. It’s hardly the first song decrying the superficiality of the capital of the entertainment industry. However, the lyrical content is there and above all, just like in the far reaches track’s namesake, there is a gritty underbelly there for those willing to search for it.
Deeper cuts “Savior”, “Fear the Future”, and “Young Lover” offer the best of both worlds, a post-pop direction worth exploring further, but at this juncture, they are largely an afterthought. MASSEDUCTION is, unfortunately, neither bitingly critical of industrial level pop, nor perfectly efficient at producing its signature sing-a-long euphoria. The music itself is stellar for the most part. Problems for the listener will stem from their own politics of cool. In particular, whether this St. Vincent album is St. Vincenty enough to be dismissed at large or accepted on a piece by piece basis. There are some revisionist fans who will unfairly discard the whole catalogue and as many new ones who will discover it anew. The true problem with MASSEDUCTION is St. Vincent wasn’t bold enough to truly “sell out” and knock the already teetering pessimists from her proverbial fence.