St. Vincent gets sleek, sexy and emotional on 'MASSEDUCTION'

A turn towards pop with stunning results

St_Vincent_-_Masseduction-loma vista

“MASSEDUCTION" reflects what St. Vincent's fame has done to her life, as well as the concept of the celebrity as a whole.

Courtesy Loma Vista

Annie Clark — best known as St. Vincent — has never been one for publicity. In the beginning of her career, she was famous for her impersonal lyricism and giving out very little information about her private life. She was catapulted to the front of the indie rock scene after garnering immense critical acclaim for her first four albums — including a Grammy Award in 2014 for Best Alternative Music Album for her self-titled release — all while maintaining a low public profile. 

This all changed in 2015 when Clark began dating model and actress Cara Delevingne, one of the world’s trendiest rising stars at the time. The paparazzi began following the couple everywhere over the course of their 18-month relationship. As a result, Clark was thrust into the spotlight. She became involved in the fashion world, participating in New York Fashion Week and doing a modeling campaign for Tiffany & Co., and even had a brief stint in Taylor Swift’s “squad.” 

Over the course of a little over a decade she went from being the shy, artsy indie singer who got her start in Sufjan Steven’s backing band to a rock goddess who collaborates with David Byrne, sells out venues and stands alongside artists filling in for Kurt Cobain at Nirvana’s induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. 

Her new record, “MASSEDUCTION,” steps back to contemplate the age-old question famously brought up by Byrne in the 1980 hit “Once In A Lifetime” — how did I get here? It is a reflection on what fame has done to her life, as well as a larger statement on the concept of celebrity as a whole. 

“MASSEDUCTION” — pronounced “mass seduction” — eschews her previous noisy, art rock tendencies in exchange for a more synthpop-leaning sound. When it was first announced that super-producer Jack Antonoff would be handling the album’s production, the public was rightfully worried. He has had a very up-and-down 2017 — on one hand, Antonoff was responsible for writing and producing a significant portion of Lorde’s pop opus “Melodrama.” On the other hand, he contributed to the absolute dumpster fire of a track that is Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.” 

Antonoff has popularized the technique of turning up the volume on all of the mixes of his tracks to 11, creating an overblown, blaring and sometimes shrill sounding song that can be as intense as it is forgettable. This sound would be the kiss of death to any lesser artist — however, St. Vincent does not fall into the category. She takes the sounds Antonoff provides and uses their stale and commercial characteristics in an artistic manner to comment on celebrity life and its trappings. 

“Fear the Future” is a great example of the perfect blend of Antonoff’s production style and St. Vincent’s songwriting capabilities. The track is a mixture of an ‘80s new wave song — complete with a blaring synth line — and the skittery percussion and maximalist chorus of a modern dance-pop tune. The incredibly infectious song will be a definite crowd-pleaser live — as noted by St. Vincent naming her upcoming tour after the track. 

Another example is the second track on the album, “Pills.” The song’s bouncy and driving drum beat have been boosted to the point of distortion, which creates a hazy aura complimenting the song’s lyrical concept about St. Vincent’s struggles with prescription drugs during her last stint on tour. It is another catchy pop track with an ad-jingle-esque vocal melody on the chorus — courtesy of her ex, Delevingne — which drills its way into a listener’s head. 

Saxophonist extraordinaire Kamasi Washington also adds a sax line to the track, making the song all the more frenetic and funky. What makes “Pills” special, however, is its transition to a cleaner, quieter outro two-thirds of the way into the song. St. Vincent gives an incredibly emotional vocal performance calling out to those who have felt the pain of prescription drug addiction over sweeping a string section and Washington’s melancholy sax embellishments. It adds a well-earned cathartic moment to a chaotic moment in the tracklisting. 

This pattern of a loud pop song into an emotional ballad is present throughout the tracklist of “MASSEDUCTION.” The quiet, fuzzy opener “Hang On Me” leads into the energetic, aforementioned, “Pills.” “Savior” is a funky, provocative jam à la “Young Americans” era Bowie, which transitions perfectly into the lead single “New York,” a tribute to past and present friends without whom she would be lost.

The roaring, pop-infused rock tracks that play from the title track to “Los Ageless” are a perfect segway into “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” a tear-inducing piano ballad about young love gone sour. The final result may be the best track St. Vincent has ever produced, and she uses this sonic contrast throughout the record to attempt to explain the dichotomy of celebrity life. Her status as a public figure results in every moment of her life being scrutinized by millions of people who want to know every detail of her steamy celebrity relationships. At the same time, her fame alienates her from normal human interactions and relationships. 

This sentiment is perfectly encapsulated in some of the record’s final tracks — “Young Lover,” “Slow Disco” and “Smoking Section.” “Young Lover” is everything a pop rock track should be. It’s loud and catchy with a high-pitched energetic outro beckoning listeners to sing along with her at the top of their lungs. 

“Slow Disco” has St. Vincent confronting the consequences of hot and heavy love story from “Young Lover” — her partner is now gone, their love self-destructed and she is left “dancing with a ghost.” The closer, “Smoking Section,” is a culmination of every theme on the record. On the track, she feels alone, gun in hand and ready to end it all. However, her realization that her fame does not define her brings her back from the edge. To perfectly punctuate the album she sings, “And then I think / What could be better than love, than love, than love? / It's not the end, it's not the end” in a gut-wrenching tone coming straight from her soul. It’s a beautiful, emotional and personal moment to conclude a beautiful, emotional and personal record. 

Some listeners were afraid that “MASSEDUCTION” would be an unnecessary pivot away from everything that made St. Vincent famous. Abandoning the guitar-heavy foundation of her prior work for modern pop conventions was a risk which ended up paying off in the end. At first listen, the record can sound like an attempt to recreate the sounds currently dominating on the Billboard charts. However, a peek under the surface gives way to all the artistic nuance used when creating the album. 

The record’s shallow facade represents the relentless pursuit of base pleasures that American culture values so much in the 21st century. Once this hedonistic lifestyle is stripped away, people can finally recognize who their real friends are and what their relationships mean. Rarely has a recent pop album explored so well what it means to be a pop star in the modern age. In the end, this record may be a pivot away from what St. Vincent does best, but it was a pivot in a direction ultimately resulting in her pop masterpiece. 

related stories