St Vincent: Masseduction review – fun but challenging

(Caroline International)
With giddy highs and dark lows, Annie Clark’s new album is the mischievous singer’s most direct yet

In 1978, the porn mag Hustler ran one of the most infamous magazine covers in history – a woman’s legs sticking out of a meat-grinder. It played on the idea that the publication treated women like sides of beef (something a Larry Flynt cover line disingenuously protested against).

Annie Clark doesn’t actually reproduce this specific image in any of the high-concept artwork for her fifth album. But in the recent video for Los Ageless – a tremendous song about a city of surface and surgery, boasting one of the choruses of the year – she presides over a meat grinder chewing up the word “NO” and some legs stick out of a TV; there are ample references to the objectification of female bodies in visual culture.

One of the many, many themes of Masseduction is being female and being gazed upon – a natural enough consequence of Clark’s high-profile former relationship with a supermodel, Cara Delevingne, and her paparazzi. Power dynamics also feature heavily on Masseduction. London interviews for this compelling break-up record sometimes took place in a tiny room with Clark playing back pre-prepared answers to idiotic questions (“What’s it like to be a woman in the music industry?”). The album cover practically invites you to kiss her ass (it is, technically, the ass of one of Clark’s friends).

Ironically enough, for a musician who has often written abstractedly and in character throughout the course of her five albums, Masseduction could well be Clark’s most direct record yet. It is full of giddy highs (the guitar on Los Ageless! The quivering, bombastic Fear the Future!) and deep-sea trenches as Clark grapples with the loss of love, and who is pulling the strings. “The void is back and unblinking”, croons St Vincent on the album’s first song, the sinuous, electronic Hang On Me.

Clark’s versatile music perks up for Pills, but the message on the Beatle-y denouement is bleak: “Everyone you love will all go away”. Who could be the subject of the throbbing, kaleidoscopic Young Lover, a song in which Clark finds someone unconscious in the bath? “Wake up, young lover/ I thought you were dying”, Clark seethes; an ecstatic, miserable wail follows. The superficially blithe Happy Birthday, Johnny reconnects with a recurring character in St Vincent albums. Clark has always refused to reveal who “Johnny” is, while fans and writers sometimes have trouble with the idea that he may be a composite or a fiction. Johnny is living on the streets, and accuses Clark of forsaking him (“Of course, I blame me”). Smoking Section finds St Vincent contemplating throwing herself off a roof.

Watch the video for St Vincent’s Los Ageless

There is ample time for fun, too, on a record that refuses to settle for music-by-numbers: piano ballads about being sad, happy upbeat pop songs about lust. Savior is a frisky, minimal funk track redolent of Prince that finds St Vincent raiding the cosplay box. It’s clearly about sex, but it’s also about the roles we play for one another.

All of this anguish and mischief is parcelled up as art-savvy, saturated Technicolor. Accessible but challenging, Masseduction thumbs its nose at genre while Clark’s choice of producer – Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde) – roots it firmly in pop; it is, after all, an attempt to jump Clark from cult act to mass seductress. It’s working.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
St Vincent: Daddy’s Home review – a compelling family affair
Channelling 70s New York funk and her father’s release from prison, the ever brilliant Annie Clark loosens up on her soulful sixth album

Kitty Empire

08, May, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
St Vincent review – naked thrills and dark disco
Annie Clark has crafted an unsettlingly sexy live show fit for the heavy themes and neon 80s pulse of Masseduction

Kitty Empire

02, Sep, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
St Vincent: St Vincent – review
Annie Clark's fourth St Vincent album, mixing funk, electro and epic songs, is her most accessible work to date, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

23, Feb, 2014 @12:04 AM

Article image
Stevie Parker: The Cure review – intriguing and idiosyncratic
(Virgin EMI)
The Bristol-based singer makes a virtue of misery on this highly promising break-up album

Kitty Empire

21, May, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Camila Cabello: Camila review – tuneful and unexpectedly nuanced
The former member of American girl group Fifth Harmony shows she’s equipped to go it alone on her frisky debut album

Kitty Empire

14, Jan, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
LCD Soundsystem: American Dream review – sombre but satisfying
The spectre of mortality stalks LCD’s comeback album but mainman James Murphy seizes the day in style

Kitty Empire

03, Sep, 2017 @7:45 AM

Article image
U2: Songs of Experience review – an insipid try-hard
This companion piece to 2014’s Songs of Innocence is stronger on love than politics, but lacks the passion to inspire

Kitty Empire

03, Dec, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Halsey: Hopeless Fountain Kingdom review – pop goes the spontaneity
The New Jersey singer’s voice is stifled by the mega-production and collaboration fest from industry A-listers that often follows a successful debut

Kitty Empire

04, Jun, 2017 @5:59 AM

Article image
Taylor Swift: Lover review – a return to past glories
Taylor Swift’s latest album revisits the catchy pop and romantic concerns that made her name

Kitty Empire

24, Aug, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
St Vincent review – Annie get your axe

St Vincent's presiding genius Annie Clark exerts strict control over wild sonic experiments to exhilarating effect, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

24, Aug, 2014 @8:00 AM