Writing a follow up to 2014’s gargantuan, Grammy-winning, self-titled album was never going to be an easy task for Annie Clark, so perhaps that’s why it took so long to do. Mind you, when you’re being hailed as the modern day Ziggy Stardust, you want to make sure you get things right. St. Vincent’s first major release in 3 years is an infallibly solid, instantly catchy, art-pop classic – but it feels maybe a bit too familiar.
There’s a distinctly poppy glaze on the first side, Clark’s much loved screeching guitars swapped ever increasingly often in favour of crisp synths and punchy drum machines. It’s fun and feel-good. Or at least at first glance. Lyrically, themes are dark and desolate; addiction, depression, and loss. Second track and pre-album single ‘Pills’, for example, is a satanic advertising jingle for a drug-dependent lifestyle, yet could be mistaken for an electrified nursery rhyme.
Five tracks in, however, things take a turn and emotions are laid bare. A brooding, sinister sound introduces ‘Los Ageless’, before breaking down into anguished cries of “How could anybody have you and lose you / and not lose their minds too?”, and then, after a spiralling instrumental, a chilling spoken word outro (“I try to write you a love song, but it comes out a lament”) repeated over and over as a desperate mantra.
Standout track ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ comes in the form of a letter to an estranged friend or lover, who we can only assume to be the same as the previous album’s ‘Prince Johnny’. With sparse backing, Clark unsuccessfully tries to reminisce, instead lingering over his battles with substances, homelessness, and crime. And though she blames herself, she feels no longer able to help him.
The LP covers all bases, with no easily identifiable low points. It’s rough and gnarly, it’s sexy and assertive, it’s coy and tender, it’s… exactly what we’d expect from St. Vincent, but it’s nothing especially new. She’s certainly found her groove, but perhaps she’s a bit too comfortable in it.
Artist: St. Vincent. Label: Loma Vista. Top Tracks: Masseduction; Los Ageless; Happy Birthday, Johnny. For Fans Of: David Byrne; Kate Bush; Bon Iver. 41 minutes