St. Vincent’s sixth studio album is at once a lush playground, an intimate confessional, and an alluring invitation. You’ll be glad you stayed a while.
When doing press for her unrelenting, opulent, 2017 tour de force Masseduction, Annie Clark (AKA St. Vincent) made journalists crawl through a narrow opening to access the interview area, wherein, if they asked a question she thought was too boring, they were met with a recording instead of an answer in person. During the tour for that album, she dressed in latex, while screens onstage showed someone punching her in the face. In the run-up to her sixth studio album, Daddy’s Home, she caused significant controversy and debate when her publicity team requested that a journalist kill an article after she took issue with the line of questioning. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the idea behind the St. Vincent persona is to confound and provoke at every turn.
This is true to an extent, but despite the layers of grandiosity, St. Vincent albums have also always been unflinchingly personal. Viewed through the lens of her romantic relationships or her familial ones, which form the basis of this album’s inspiration, parts of Annie Clark were always on show, whether we saw them clearly or not. Daddy’s Home continues in the same tradition by creating another world in which Clark can tell us her stories.
Sonically, this couldn’t really be further from the stylings of her last record. Instead of the futuristic cyber-pop of Masseduction, opener ‘Pay Your Way In Pain’ opens with a snippet of ragtime piano music – the kind you might find in a bar in 19th century America – before giving way to a woozy, Prince-inspired, robotic synth line. It wouldn’t feel out of place on the soundtrack to a bad, sepia-tone 70s crime serial. The guitars are background screeches amid the gospel-infused chorus line. Clark, for her part, does her best to play up to her characteristic sleaze: “I went to the park just to watch the little children / the mothers saw my heels and they said I wasn’t welcome”. The lyrics come as a lazy drawl.
The 70s theme continues throughout. The lush and swaggering ‘Down And Out Downtown’ evokes 70s-era Beatles. Its thick, oozing bassline and rich brass arrangements are set amongst gospel choruses and sitars. Meanwhile the standout behemoth ‘Live In The Dream’ is dripping with Pink Floyd-esque psychedelia, its percussion and echoing guitars drifting along at a snail’s pace like they’ve been set afloat in outer space, complete with hair-raising guitar solo and discordant, jazz infused chords. Another highlight is the restless, jittering ‘Down’, whose imposing, foreboding groove builds throughout to an earth-shaking crescendo. It all goes to show the commitment and virtuosity with which St. Vincent can conjure the worlds her stories are set in. If Annie Clark is going to bare her soul, it’s going to be on her turf.
St. Vincent albums are personal, and Daddy’s Home is no different. The title track deals with her changing relationship with her father after his prison sentence for fraud. Clark signed autographs for other inmates when she went to visit him. That changing dynamic has been something she’s been dealing with for a long time. As she noted recently, ‘In some ways, the roles have reversed – I feel like ‘Daddy’ half the time’. Elsewhere there are fears about motherhood and what her lifestyle is doing to her personal and romantic lives. On ‘My Baby Wants A Baby’ she wrestles with future parenthood. “What in the world would my baby say? I got your eyes and your mistakes”. At 38, Clark is no longer the ‘Young Lover’ she depicts in her last album, and she’s reckoning with very real – and very close – fears as a result.
But there’s an inescapable sense of humour running throughout as well; every worry tempered by comedy. The opening track, for instance, is a comically mundane story about Clark going to the store and the bank. Even the aforementioned ‘Daddy’s Home’ is awash with dry humour. “You still got it in your government green suit. I look down and out in my fine Italian shoes”. It comes with a wry smile amid bouncing synths and soulful harmonies. For every worry there’s an off-the-cuff joke or reference to offset it.
Daddy’s Home is St. Vincent’s loosest, most relaxed album to date. It’s also a lush, vibrant playground within which Annie Clark can tell us her stories, and a confession booth which allows her to open up to the listener. From the 70s decor to the expertly layered production and masterful musicianship, to the engaging, witty, heartfelt tales she spins, Annie Clark’s invitation to stay a while is an alluring one. And you’ll be glad you did.
St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home is out this Friday and is available to pre-order and pre-save now.