St. Vincent 2024
Photo: Alex Da Corte / Nasty Little Man

St. Vincent Finds Pleasure in Pain on ‘All Born Screaming’

On All Born Screaming, St. Vincent suggests the end of life is really just a new beginning. Love is the purpose. There is no joy without pain.

All Born Screaming
St. Vincent
Total Pleasure / Virgin
26 April 2024

St. Vincent cleverly notes that we are “All Born Screaming”, but she also notes that “Hell Is Near”—or we are all going to die someday. She tells us this in reverse order. “Hell is Near” is the first track on the new album All Born Screaming, while the title song comes last. The presumption here is that since we only live for a short while before we lose that mortal coil, we must treasure the time we have. St. Vincent begins by acknowledging death first. Life’s finality gives our existence purpose.

This is not the first time the singer-songwriter has sung the phrase “Hell is near.” It is cited in her song from the soundtrack to The Nowhere Inn, her strange semi-autobiographical film. “We’re all nowhere, and where are you now,” the chorus to the movie theme enigmatically goes. On her new release, St. Vincent seems to have located herself. She is in the here and now.

“Hell Is Near” begins with booming bass drums as if she is making an official proclamation and sings with Renaissance choral inflections as if she is making an official holy decree. St. Vincent produced this record (her seventh), so her intent is deliberate and authentic. She starts with the ending to express her views on the beginning and what it all means. St. Vincent vocalizes with lots of reverb so that one cannot clearly hear the lyrics as much as appreciate their heaviness. The clearest phrase is “Give it all away,” which she repeats several times during the second half of the song. What she gives away and to whom is indistinct. The important thing is to “give”.

The bulk of the songs that follow showcase St. Vincent’s mysteriousness. St. Vincent is well-respected as a guitarist, but she does not show off her skills here as much as she uses the instrument to build a wall of inscrutable sound with rhythmic percussion noises, electronic effects, warped melodies, and silent interludes. The lyrics can be incomprehensible. “Drip you in diamonds, pour you in cream / You will be mine for eternity / I’ll bring you China milk for your tea,” she sings on “Flea”. These lines are typical in their cryptic use of ordinary language. How does one pour another in cream, or what is Chinese milk? Something baffling is happening even as one feels what it means through the way she sings. One knows it is a love song without the words ever being said.

“Big Time Nothing”, “Broken Man”, and “Violent Times” seem to offer life lessons without getting too explicit. For example, “Don’t fall from grace, behave / Don’t trip, sashay,” St. Vincent advises on “Big Time Nothing”. What she means may be poetic in association. One should be good and dance through life. What that entails remains vague. The music to this song itself is funky, with a deep bass bellow on the sound floor. St. Vincent expresses the hollowness of life, the “Nothing” of the track’s name, and the fact that we exist and need to keep moving.

While All Born Screaming isn’t a concept album, it does follow an arc. As a finale, the title song celebrates our presence and simultaneously conveys its limitations. St. Vincent suggests the end of life is really just a new beginning. Love is the purpose. “I have climbed into open arms / They turn into a straitjacket,” she sings in an affected voice. There is little consolation If love is all there is to give meaning to life. It causes pain as well as joy, or perhaps it is more accurate to say there is no joy without pain. We scream when the doctor slaps our butt when being born. One has to imagine this as a pleasurable yawp.

RATING 7 / 10