St. Vincent naturally progresses her career forward with her recently released MASSEDUCATION — an album that proves her place in the music industry.
St. Vincent, born Annie Clark, embodies artistry better than just about anyone in music. Each album has a distinct visual, sonic and thematic shift as she completely reinvents herself while keeping her unique, genuine nature. It’s clear why she’s been compared to the late David Bowie throughout her career, and her latest album MASSEDUCTION feels in-line with that.
Embracing the pop sound she introduced in her 2014 self-titled album, MASSEDUCTION is a dance album that can never escape Clark’s sadness, addiction and failing relationships — and in many ways is the most personal work in Clark’s discography.
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Simply thinking of MASSEDUCTION as a pop album, however, is not enough. Pop seems to work as a façade to hide the crippling pain behind many of the tracks on this album. In the same way the beautiful orchestral arrangements of Actor created a lush and ironic padding to the anxiety of the album, the boisterous pop element of this album seems to juxtapose the themes of being alone. What makes MASSEDUCTION different is that Clark herself is trying to find where she fits.
With so many risks and grand explorative goals, albums like MASSEDUCTION can become muddled or just fall completely flat. Clark somehow is able to balance pop hits with her shift to more confessional songwriting while making it sound like a logical progression for St. Vincent. For an album that examines what it means to be lost, this album is very confident in what it is.
No track comes off as confident and exuberant as much as the title track of the album. Other than “Bring Me Your Loves” on St. Vincent, Clark never lets this loose on a track. The chorus, “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” is unapologetic and something that will stick with you long after hearing it.
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The track closes with Clark showing why she is one of the most talented guitarists in music right now. “Sugarboy” builds on this same energy, and its outro is the pop chaos Clark excels in.
The album builds these catchy pop tracks just to strip it all away. If tracks like “Masseducation” are a party, “Happy Birthday, Johnny” is looking at yourself in the mirror at the end of the night, thinking of all of the mistakes you’ve made in your life and all the people you miss. MASSEDUCTION relishes in these moments of painful reflection when there’s no one left to distract you from yourself.
These moments can even happen when you least expect it. “Savior,” a track that looks at power through the lens of religion and sex with a promiscuous riff, closes with pleasure entirely lost, leaving Clark to cry out “please,” while she works around the labels others place on her. This is a common rift throughout the album. All of the singles from the album have similar outros trying to find yourself in a world of distractions.
The album ends on a very similar note on “Smoking Section.” Here, there are no throbbing bass drum kicks or no distorted guitars — no distractions. It’s just Clark, a piano and some drums. The song looks for an end to the pain. The pills aren’t helping. No one seems to care and Clark needs a way out.
In this track, Clark gives the most personal performance of her career. “And sometimes I go to the edge of my roof/ And I think I’ll jump just to punish you/ And if I should float on the taxis below/ No one would notice/ No one will know,” Clark sings in the most subdued voice of the whole record.
An end is not an end to Clark, as she looks to love for the answer. Her final words are a repeating, “it’s not the end,” letting us know things will get better, even if things seem hopeless now.
MASSEDUCTION will likely be polarizing to many, as it should. An album that is this willing to take risks and provoke should not lead to a simple assessment. The album goes all in on pop and succeeds in accomplishing what Clark has done throughout her career. She alters an existing aesthetic or notion of the world and warps it heavily into its darkest elements. The difference on MASSEDUCTION is that now, she is showing us her demons and how she attempts to find a way to exorcise them the same way we all do.