After a three-year hiatus, St. Vincent returns with “MASSEDUCTION,” a meditation on how love and eroticism overlap and conflict with each other. With her fifth album, St. Vincent continues to shock the general audience with her bold and unapologetic approach to music, establishing herself once again as an art-rock auteur. Her field of agency is even more extended on her latest release, as idiosyncratic guitar riffs accompany her detailed study on being female and being constantly objectified.
Annie Clark’s songwriting, and her general approach to conveying ideas through music, have gradually changed since her last album, 2014’s “St. Vincent” (a terrific futuristic collection of an album, which was my favorite of the year 2014). In “MASSEDUCTION,” she is seen as departing from her criticism of digital culture to focus on more personal materials, including reflections on her recent break-up with supermodel Cara Delavigne. The relationship undeniably established Clark as a figure in the mass media, and her image as a relatively obscure indie artist has since been radically transformed into one of a paparazzi-pursued fashion mogul. In songs such as “Los Ageless,” she is confronting this image-obsessed culture head-on with a sharp reproach, and spitting back a clear feminist message – that her work is inherently female, but that she can also be something other than an image, a quick snapshot. In this sense, she demands attention as a seductress, an arguably ultimate post-feminist figure of a woman in total control. In other songs, such as “New York,” she reflects on her past relationship not so much with heartbreak as with a nostalgic appreciation of having lived through something magnificent.
From the anxiety-driven “Fear the Future” to “Savior,” a continuation of her previous critiques of institutional religion and monotheistic spirituality, she is in this album expanding her exploration of common themes across her oeuvre. Johnny, a recurring mystical character in her past work, also makes an appearance on this record with “Happy Birthday, Johnny.” However, “MASSEDUCTION,” although consistent with her other releases, fails to reach the heights of her last album, giving the sense that it is too loosely sewn together and is trying too hard to appeal to mainstream pop tastes. Annie Clark may aspire to criticize mass culture, but her album argues otherwise, essentially admitting that it is not a meta-pop album; it is, instead, just a pop album with off-key arrangements.
Through clashing polar opposites, she is here building a thesis of her womanhood: the private life of an intimate relationship autonomously narrated against the independently recorded public life of dating a supermodel. In this regard, the album is inherently fragmented, displaying several approaches to answering a very personal yet very timely question. The songs clash in themselves too, failing to form a cohesive understanding of what the album is supposed to be: A critique of pop culture? A sex-positive feminist anthem? A break-up album? All of the above? “MASSEDUCTION” contains all of these questions, but seldom answers them.
“MASSEDUCTION” is still a very enjoyable listen, even though it seriously lacks the visionary approach the artist’s previous albums seemed so effortlessly to inhabit. With her latest album, St. Vincent at least convinces us that she is not a complete sell-out; she may date high-profile supermodels, but she is still unmistakably a cultural alien.
Notable Songs: “Hang On Me,” “Los Ageless,” “Happy Birthday Johnny,” “Savior,” “Smoking Section”