St. Vincent’s ‘MASSEDUCTION’ Shows Pain Through a Plastic Lens

St. Vincent’s ‘MASSEDUCTION’ Shows Pain Through a Plastic Lens

Stream Annie Clark's dazzling new album now.

Stream Annie Clark's dazzling new album now.

Text: Jake Viswanath

St. Vincent is a master of the guitar: maybe the closest thing we have to a rock goddess in our generation. So what do you do when you’ve mastered witty, imaginative rock? Turn up the beats and bring in the synths. As Annie Clark said herself about "New York," the delicate lead single, “People might have thought I was going to zig, so I zagged.”

But on her new album MASSEDUCTION, written and produced by Clark herself alongside powerhouse Jack Antonoff (of Swiftian, Lorde, and Bleachers fame), she doesn’t go in a slightly poppier direction for no reason. As custom, she creates a new world for us to inhabit, this time a plastic technicolor wonderland that tears apart societal norms and takes aim at the comic normalcies of the media. But underneath lies what may be her most searingly personal record yet.

Doom already looms large during intro “Hang On Me,” a haunting acceptance of forthcoming panic and destruction. But the leap into a jumpy and twisted nursery rhyme commentary on self-medication, “Pills,” signals the album’s tone of abrasive and grandiose bubblegum, really a clever ruse. “Sugarboy” meshes the most thrilling rush of Mario synths with witty coquette pleading and the clawing drawl reminiscent of Johnny Cash as she plays with gender roles, while “Savior” sees her destroy idolatry and challenge relationship dynamics thought an electro-sleaze riff straight out of Prince’s leftover bin from the 80s.

But an empowerment album this is not. Throughout MASSEDUCTION, Clark brilliantly disguises her fears, her losses, and her fears of more loss with aggressive, uplifting sweetness. She never gets too specific nor too abstract, and the undeniable melodies and bombastic electronics hiding the gloom make this record her most universal. The blistering outro of “Young Lover” could soundtrack your ascension to heaven (or wherever your next step may take you), but only Annie Clark would make an overdose sound this majestic, creating a brilliantly shining contrast between two types of death.

So it’s only fitting that the set’s final tracks are its most forlorn, and perhaps its most gorgeous. “Slow Disco” is the ballad Clark was made to do, but still one of defeat, as vocoders and fuzzy synths overshadow the final plea: “Don’t leave me to slow dance to death.” The single drum pedal and piano keys of “Smoking Section” signal the final straw, the click before pulling the trigger, before one glimmer of hope comes in: “It’s not the end,” repeated like a mantra as she cradles back and forth.

Though St. Vincent may be mass educating us on mass seduction in the title track (you can guess the actual pronunciation for yourself), we end up learning more about her instead. Never have we been more in tune with her likes and dislikes, her methods of coping, her craft, as we are on MASSEDUCTION, and this is no better heard than through its shiny pop lens. The brightness distracts us as she pulls some of her most direct and innermost thoughts on record to the forefront, allowing us to gulp while dazzled. St. Vincent maximizes the power of pop and makes it her lens, and for that, MASSEDUCTION is not at all a rock star’s foray into the mainstream. Rather, it’s an example of the extravagant and limitless masterpiece that pop can be.

Credits: Photo: Nedda Afsari

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