By Greg Kennelty, November 13, 2017
Front to Back Album Review: St. Vincent - Masseduction
- Released: October 31, 2017
- Label: Loma Vista
- Producers: Jack Antonoff, St. Vincent, Lars Stalfors, John Congleton
MASSEDUCTION is heartbreak dressed up in neon and wearing a plastic smile to make everyone else think it's doing just fine. It's the sixth cigarette on the balcony for the day or a half-empty bottle of gin early on a Saturday, all before going out with friends and acting like the day has just been another regular day. MASSEDUCTION wants you to know that no, it's not doing well, and if you dig into the lyrics then you'll find out it's telling you why.
St. Vincent, né Annie Clark, tells AV Club that MASSEDUCTION is "pretty first person" and encapsulates themes of power, sex, drug use, sadness and depression, failed or failing relationships, and death. The albums blinks sleepily into existence with Hang On Me, a soft synth-heavy ballad imploring just a few more drunken minutes of conversation with an ex or soon-to-be-ex-lover. It's not one that dramatically begs for forgiveness, but one that asks in hushed tones in the early hours of the morning to give things one more shot. Heartbreak is followed by dependency with Pills, a song that could be a jingle for some dystopian pharmacy set in the white picket fence neighborhoods of the 1950s. Even further down the line into MASSEDUCTION, songs like New York and Happy Birthday, Johnny gently lament with muffled kick drums, lilting pianos, and Clark's lyrics that tell of those familiar places devoid of everyone who made them so pleasant in the first place.
In retrospect, Clark’s unveiling of MASSEDUCTION should’ve been a tipoff as to the album’s subject matter. Clark published sarcastic videos and fake press interviews, all of which featured a well-dressed Clark against violently neon backgrounds and matching microphones. As if to say everything blends into everything else now but I haven’t changed while silently deflecting the dreary feelings with flourishes of humor. These themes show up in songs like Savior, whose lyrics deal with Clark getting increasingly frustrated over ill-fitting fetishistic costumes.
MASSEDUCTION is a fairly restrained and muted album, but the album’s punctilious production makes sure you hear every single detail. One specific moment that stopped me dead in my tracks was the final chorus of Happy Birthday, Johnny. Clark holds out the word “me” to the point where her voice cracks and she’s just whispering the held-out lyric, but her vibrato makes the moment sound like a bow being softly dragged across toneless violin strings. In Savior there’s a subtle snare roll between a verse and a chorus, and while it’s nothing that makes or breaks the song, the quiet detail adds phenomenal color to the track.
What I’m getting at is this – MASSEDUCTION is a stripped down pop record whose production spares no detail. Songs like Smoking Section and Hang On Me employ a little bit of the room to add a sense of claustrophobia, while songs like New York has Clark singing softly right into your ear. It’s not an album with a massive soundstage and a dozen instruments working in tandem, but one that uses minimal backing to allow Clark’s vocals to stand front and center.
MASSEDUCTION is a personal album for Clark and it seems to be mixed that way. So go ahead – put on some ridiculous clothes, pour yourself a drink in a comically large glass, buy some ridiculous sunglasses and bask in the absurdity of life, love, and loss… Annie Clark-style.
Listened via Spotify & YouTube on EGG plugged in via USB.