From the moment St Vincent ‘announced’ her return with a lengthy, note-rustling speech that said very little, the satirical bite of the tongue-twisting ‘MASSSEDUCTION’ has been clear. Embracing this 21st Century world as the bleak tragicomedy it is, Annie Clark’s fifth album ridicules its backdrop (and, importantly, it also sidesteps the ‘Everything Now’ pitfall of mocking its own listeners). It also taps into profound honesty at the same time, carving out a space for the weirdos and the others in a world that often seems hell-bent on erasing the misfits.
As with everything she does, ‘MASSEDUCTION’s approach to seduction itself is less than straightforward, shot through a lens of ludicrous absurdity. ‘Savior’ tries on kinks like fancy dress costumes, recreating begging lust with a smirk, and evidently revelling in its own subversion by way of its sleazy, creeping bass line. And on fluid banger ‘Sugarboy’ genders are casually frog-hopped between above a frantic glitch gasping for air (“I am a lot like you, boys! I am alone like you, girls!”) before a pomp-filled trumpet-type solo gives way to abrasive scritches. It’s like the musical equivilant of a Linder Sterling collage - all super-exaggerated pouts and gauche neon eyeshadow - exaggerated and magnified to defiant effect.
These queered approaches to gender and sexuality aren’t new phenomenon in St Vincent’s music, but here, they’re at their most overt. Zooming right back to her debut album - sardonically titled ‘Marry Me’ and playing on the juxtaposition between a sickly-sweet surface and formidable menace beneath - it’s been a presence from the beginning. ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’, from 2007’s ‘Strange Mercy’, meanwhile, made lyrical allusions to sexual powerplay (“Horse-hair whip / My own heels / Heal my hurt”). And then there’s countless other examples; for instance the video for ‘Cruel’, where Annie Clark is buried alive when she fails to perform her duties as a perfect housewife, the gender-dismantling ‘Prince Johnny’. But on ‘MASSEDUCTION’ - as you might expect - these ideas grow darker and sharper, amplified in bold, brash day-glo. And sonically - where guitars often sound like howling banshees, and vocals pitch-shift down into gruff bass - the sound is slippery, and escapes definition.
Amid the technicolour New Wave and ridiculousness, though, this is also a deeply personal, often sad, record; reflecting on soaring status, capitalist greed and destructive desires; love, drugs, and even attention. Veering restlessly between a lustful drive for money and over-indulgence (no more so than on the creepy lullaby that is ‘Pills’, which features Cara Delevingne as an added meta nod to Annie Clark’s own increasing fame) and a yawning reluctance to embrace any of it - “oh what a bore, to be adored,” yawns the title track - these oft-referenced artistic trappings are, thankfully, ones she’s has avoided completely. Instead, she battles them down with a curious and potent mix of satire and sincerity.
Artists that live on forever are the ones that evolve and get greater with every single album, painting entire vivid worlds that shape the times they’re in as much as reacting to them. As eyebrow-raisingly absurd as the current state of the world - and dissecting the darkest of melancholy in the same step - ‘MASSEDUCTION’ is a lesson in black humour. Along with the equally exceptional ‘St Vincent’ which came before it, this is the moment that St Vincent enters the fabled realm reserved for the greats.
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