St. Vincent can’t turn off what turns her on and I can’t turn off “MASSEDUCTION.”
Annie Clark gives listeners a fascinating glimpse into her life in her fifth solo release under the stage name St. Vincent, and takes on a more mainstream pop approach than her most recent releases, such as “St. Vincent” and “Strange Mercy.” “MASSEDUCTION” is easily her best, with its impressive and oftentimes strikingly literal lyrics, representing a turning point in her dreamy, alternative pop sound.
The album opens with “Hang On Me,” a soft-spoken ballad addressing a lover. However, immediately after the song ends, the album bombards listeners with robotically cheery chants from the next track “Pills” – “Pills to wake, Pills to sleep/ Pills, pills, pills every day of the week.”
The transition between “Hang On Me” and “Pills” is admittedly jarring. Perhaps the one flaw of “MASSEDUCTION” is its lack of a structured order – ballads are placed in between upbeat and peppy songs without any transition from one song to the next. It almost feels as if the album is constantly on shuffle mode.
That said, the album – much like Lorde’s “Melodrama” from earlier this year, which was also produced by Jack Antonoff – manages to cover a spectrum of emotional experiences such as drug abuse in “Pills” and the acceptance of queer identity in “Masseduction.”
St. Vincent takes on an unapologetic attitude of sexual liberation through “MASSEDUCTION.” In the chorus of “Masseduction,” she sings out “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” a line that she noted as the thesis of the album in an interview with Pitchfork. She uses Christian imagery of nuns and virgins as a means to critique archaic sexual mandates, a motif that persists throughout the album.
On the song “Savior,” she sings about being dressed in a nun’s black habit and says “Honey, I can’t be your savior/ Love you to the grave and farther.”
Her lyrics frame an unorthodox and borderline offensive approach to singing about sex, but it works because she’s singing from her own experiences. In another interview with BuzzFeed, St. Vincent said “I told you more than I would tell my own mother,” which is a pretty hefty claim, but after listening to songs like “Masseduction” and “Savior,” it’s clear that she’s not joking around.
And while the poetry of “MASSEDUCTION” is absolutely marvelous – so much so that it deserves a spot in the canon of American literature – the album would easily fall flat if St. Vincent didn’t have the musical chops to back it up.
Luckily, she does.
In “Young Lover,” St. Vincent shows off parts of her higher register that listeners rarely hear on other albums, performing complex riffs with a whistle tone toward the end of the song. On the opposite end of the spectrum, St. Vincent finishes off the album with “Smoking Section,” in which she dips into some of the lowest notes listeners have ever heard her sing.
“Smoking Section” in particular is a musically complex song – St. Vincent sings much of the song in her vocal fry register, with a hauntingly creaky but by no means weak quality. As she sings “Let it happen, let it happen, let it happen,” St. Vincent layers background vocals in a high, almost shrill tone over her low breathy voice.
Other highlights of the album include “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” a ballad in which she sings to the recurring “Johnny” character mentioned on other songs, such as “Prince Johnny” and “Marry Me.” The song provides an interesting new direction in Johnny’s narrative – while “Marry Me” and “Prince Johnny” are laden with metaphor, “Happy Birthday, Johnny” tells a clear and concise narrative about finally letting him go for good.
“MASSEDUCTION” is irrefutably St. Vincent’s most impressive release – it has everything a listener could want and more: interesting lyrical content, upbeat melodies next to ballads and most importantly, stellar vocals.