By the time the end of the year comes around, 2017 will most likely be remembered for a year of puzzling rollout campaigns from artists whose work seemed to rise above all extravagance inherent in self-promotion.
Arcade Fire took this to the extreme, but St. Vincent (better known as Annie Clark) also flirted with this as well in a series of tongue-in-cheek promotional videos directed by comedian and musician Carrie Brownstein.
In the videos, Clark responds to questions that appear on a black screen and are part of the inane process of the press junket.
“What’s it like to wear a show in heels?” and “what was the inspiration for this album?” are among the questions to which Clark delivers a biting satirical answer.
“I saw a woman singing along to ‘Great Balls of Fire’ in the car and I wanted to make an album that made sure that never happened again,” she says when asked about the origins of her new album, Masseduction.
In her fifth album, Clark teamed up with producer Jack Antonoff to create an album that’s not quite a pop breakthrough, but not quite holistic outsider art. And so, her latest album – that’s jokingly meant to be a proactive measure from people singing along to Jerry Lee Lewis – suffers an identity crisis that never gets fully resolved by the time the album concludes after 13 tracks.
Instead, what we receive is a synth-loaded personal snapshot complete with sex, drugs, and loss that channels 80s-era David Bowie, one of Clark’s musical heroes, and a more cerebral Prince.
Two songs: “Masseduction” and “Savior” are rife with some cliched erotic images in order to make a point on the proliferation of unimaginative sexual ideals.
I’m sure one has heard multiple variations on “I’ll hold you like a weapon” which Clarks sings in “Masseduction.”
But it’s in “Sugarboy” that really hits the Prince comparison home. With its Giorgio Moroder-like pulsating soundscape, “Sugarboy” ends up sounding like an updated version of “Batdance” although nowhere near as absurd or fun.
And, like Prince, Clark has proved herself to be an unbelievably proficient guitar player. But, her guitar mastery is disappointingly under-utilized, though the solo in the frenetic-paced jingle “Pills” is the one exception.
Her best song off Masseduction is undoubtedly “New York,” a tender piano ballad with a disco pulse lurking behind it. However, like for most tracks off the record, it’s a song that profoundly shows the limitations of Clark’s vocal range. The chorus in “New York” is so moving, but falls short of being perfect due to Clark’s inability to produce rich and warm belting.
“I’ve lost a hero, I’ve lost a friend, but for you darling, I’d do it all again,” is beautiful phrase that deserved to be matched with a more robust singer.
Her lyrics in “New York” may be her strongest to date.
Clark was never known for being a witty or insightful lyricist – most of her work has come off a bit clunky (“Be the one to save my saving grace,” from “Jesus Spends, I Save” off her first album). But here, she sticks to the bare bones of storytelling by using sparse yet punchy phrases.
While increased fame, thanks to high-profile relationships, may set the momentum for Clark, Masseduction still upholds her outsider sensibilities too often for it to be a pop breakthrough.
Ultimately, the songs are not catchy enough or danceable enough to push Clark through and hit the peak of her career.
Her peak remains to be her third album, Strange Mercy. An album that hinted at confessionalism in her lyrics against a backdrop of pop melodies with bold arrangements.
But if Strange Mercy was Clark’s discreet way of sharing her secrets, then Masseduction shouts them from a rooftop, still leaving you unsure as to what exactly she tried to say.