Virtuosic indie art-rock singer-songwriter St. Vincent, a.k.a Annie Clark, released her fifth studio album, Masseduction, on Friday the 13.
Despite the unlucky date, Clark’s album is anything but inauspicious. With a new level of intimacy in both her music and lyrics, Masseduction is a cerebral pop album full of anthemic personal revelations.
In Masseduction’s thirteen tracks, Clark traverses through kinky sex games, the thought of leaving and being left behind, and all-things-greater by singing about herself.
The album opens with the pulsating beat, soft violins, and bells of “Hang On Me.” Clark’s airy, unearthly voice sounds like a drunken voicemail on an ex-lover’s phone. With lyrics like “I won’t cry wolf in the kitchen, just please don’t hang up yet” and “you and me, we’re not meant for this world,” Clark begins a trend of uncharacteristic transparency and raw emotion.
“Pills,” featuring Clark’s ex-girlfriend Cara Delevingne, takes a sharp turn into a manic jingle, complete with a raucous guitar and chirping vocals. It’s arguably the “banger” of the album and less of a social commentary than a sneak peek into a troubled part of St. Vincent’s life, according to Clark herself.
Next, comes the title track, “Masseduction.” In a recent interview, Clark claimed that “Masseduction”’s tagline, “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” is essentially the album’s thesis. Breathy moans and sinister guitar chords conjure up visions of nails digging into someone’s back. Meanwhile, the words “seduction” and “destruction,” sung interchangeably, poke fun at the song’s overt sexuality while highlighting its underlying darkness.
Similarly to “Masseduction,” in “Savior” Clark’s lyrics describe various kinks and role-playing situations (accompanied by Prince mingled with industrial rock grit, with electronic drums and slinky guitar), but then spirals into high-pitched pleading bookended by Clark’s matter-of-fact laments: “They call me a strange girl, they speak to me in bruises. I got ’em tryin’ to save the world, they said, ‘girl, you’re not Jesus.’”
In “Los Ageless,” Clark tears into the superficiality and ruthlessness of Los Angeles over 90’s edgy goth-rock synth-guitar riffs. The ambiguous “you” in the anaphoric chorus “how can anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds, too” could be referring to Los Angeles, a lost lover, or youth and beauty.
“Happy Birthday, Johnny,” “New York,” and “Slow Disco” peel back Masseduction’s glitzy surface to reveal the loneliness and longing that ripples underneath.
“Happy Birthday, Johnny” is a simple, sweet, and painful ballad addressed to a former heroin-addicted companion who is a recurring character from previous albums. The heart-wrenching song allows the listener a glimpse into Clark’s guilt-ridden mind with intimate references to Jim Carroll (a fellow heroin addict who Clark intends as a “cautionary tale”) and memories of New York.
Unusually for Clark, who has always been unapologetically herself, “New York” demonstrates a more vulnerable side of the bold artist. Clark has often been called David Bowie’s modern female counterpart and it’s possible the song might be about his death. Regardless, the song fits well into an album that presents a softer side of Clark.
Though Clark sings about several important relationships, she saves the most important for last in “Smoking Section” — the one with herself. “Smoking Section” is durge-y and jarring, as Clark ruminates on suicidal thoughts and finishes with her chanting ad infinitum: “It’s not the end.” Although Masseduction ends with suicide, nothing is ending; rather, the listener can hear a new beginning emerging for Annie Clark as both herself and her musical alter-ego St. Vincent.