Annie Clark was 24 when she started writing and performing under the stage name St Vincent. Almost immediately, her defiant brand of “art-rock” earned her comparisons to David Bowie and Kate Bush.
Her fifth album, Masseduction, finds her working, more than ever, within the tradition of rebellious, androgynous, pop/rock icons – from Michael Jackson to Annie Lennox to Prince. Symbols of suburbia, Christian iconography, downtown glamour and fetishism merge in a record that blends glam rock and electro pop.
Questions of identity bubble to the surface in the spare “Happy Birthday, Johnny”, when Clark sings: “Accused me of actin’ like all royalty / Always for show, no true charity” (perhaps a nod to her saintly namesake, “the patron of all works of charity”). Problems of self and character develop in “Savior”, a foray into sexual roleplay that sees Clark dress up as a nurse, teacher, nun and cop: “None of this shit fits,” she growls.
But fractured selves, messy lives, pain, desire, heartbreak, addiction, and the very act of messing up are seen as potentially transcendent on Masseduction, which is spangled with ethereal moments. Synthetic melodies sound like pealing bells on “Hang On Me”. “Come all you wasted, wretched, and scorned,” she sings on “Pills”, generously giving out blessings. The spoken word ending of “Los Ageless” feels like a confession. The final track, “Smoking Section”, contains the ghostly, repeated refrain “It’s not the end.” It’s barely more than a whisper – and it feels close to the divine.
But as Clark’s voice falters and dies away, and Masseduction reaches its conclusion, one thing feels certain: it’s not the end for St Vincent’s contradictory, complex output, which after ten years and five albums only expands in scope and ambition.
This article appears in the 18 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s century of revolutions