Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When St. Vincent announced the release of her fifth album MASSEDUCTION, Annie Clark held a surreal mock press conference detailing the themes of the album and that the album was pronounced “mass seduction,” and not “mass education.” She also joked that she contemplated calling it “Ass Education,” which seems oddly appropriate given that there’s a bright pink ass in a thong on the cover.
The first single from MASSEDUCTION, “New York,” is an entirely different story. A tender ballad about the loss of someone close, it reads like a breakup song: “You’re the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me,” Clark sings. Yet in a line like “I have lost a hero, I have lost a friend,” she could just as easily be speaking to a figure like the late David Bowie, whom Clark has spoken about as a personal hero. In either situation, it feels genuine and anguished, almost the complete opposite of the surreal, garish image that Clark displays as St. Vincent.
MASSEDUCTION is in many ways a complicated struggle between St. Vincent the art project and Annie Clark the human being. Sometimes the lines are easy to draw — the critique of an unforgiving L.A. on “Los Ageless” and the sing-songy drug critique “Pills” are more commentary than personal reflection. Yet Clark doesn’t spare herself from that commentary, her admission “I can’t turn off what turns me on” in the noisily dance-friendly title track evidence of her own complicity in what she sees as an instant gratification society as first explored in “Digital Witness.”
The album is far more interesting when Clark is more introspective, pleading “please don’t hang up yet” on the gorgeous “Hang On Me,” or simply showcasing her noisiest guitar riffs on “Young Lover.” Whether it’s Clark the badass shredder or Clark the sensitive soul we’re hearing, it’s always preferable to the distant conceptual figure she sometimes leans back on.