By Sam Tornow, General Manager
[Concord Music Group; 2017]
Key Tracks: “Hang on Me,” “Pills,” “Happy Birthday, Johnny”
Nearly every artist has at least one just-getting-by album, a record lacking the expected depth of the rest of the musician’s discography. These albums garner hype post-release because of the brand of the artist and few great tracks surrounded by songs not worthy of consideration for the “Greatest Hits” release. Here, Annie Clark’s masterful storytelling and talent as a multi-instrumentalist are dwarfed by an inconsistent set of songs and static instrumentals on St. Vincent‘s fifth studio album, MASSEDUCTION.
St. Vincent’s knack for growth and reinvention are what has elevated her to public and critical acclaim. Each album has a distinct sound and aesthetic, and certainly MASSEDUCTION fits that description. Muted, lolling bass beats, intimate lyrics and the hint of *ahem* seduction hold up the album’s image. The first two tracks on the album, “Hang on Me,” and “Pills,” are a nice juxtaposition of songs that while differing in style, still demonstrate this.
As the artist’s most poppy album, the reason for the overall flatness of the sound makes sense. Most tracks lay in their initial zone for minutes on end until breaking the static with the final chorus, making for the most formulaic St.Vincent release. The title track, “MASSEDUCTION”, and the majority of the B-side specifically abide by this recipe.
Although, it would be wrong to say that MASSEDUCTION doesn’t feature some the artist’s most gorgeous and mature works. “Happy Birthday, Johnny” marks the midpoint in the album by far is the most intimate track here. Directly referencing 2013’s “Prince Johnny,” the song continues the anecdotal tale of Johnny, an exciting yet self-destructing friend who, after all this time, is now homeless and asking for food money. “Remember one Christmas I gave you Jim Carroll / Intended it as a cautionary tale / You said you saw yourself inside there / Dog-eared it like a how-to manual”, Clark coos on perhaps one of the most heartbreaking verses of the year.
Likewise, the aforementioned “Pills” proves itself to be the most clever upbeat number on the album. The classic St. Vincent quirkiness-meets-regality plays out in the jumpy main vocal line that is transferred over to horns during the crunchy guitar tone that is notably absent on this album.
Unfortunately, from track seven onward, MASSEDUCTION becomes a wasteland, void of memorable lines or sparkling guitar lines. While much more petite than the dancey A-side, these coupled songs struggle with lifeless delivery and instrumental sections that have metaphorically given up, and not in the Tom Waits sense.
Maybe if MASSEDUCTION was written and produced by a different artist this review would be more forgiving. Of a St. Vincent release though, it would be unfair to hold it to a lower standard than the one Clark has proved she is capable of time after time.