There’s no debate that St. Vincent (or Annie Clark) is a phenomenally talented songwriter and musician. Her vocals are always clean (even when her lyrics imply BDSM), and even if she’s not the literal best of vocalists, she is very, very good and can more than do the job. The guitar work, which she is probably best known for, is always sublime, without ever venturing into boring, navel-gazing virtuosic solos. That is because she is first and foremost a songwriter, one who understands what constitutes a good song, and her new album, Daddy’s Home, is endlessly listenable without being easy listening, unique but never esoteric.
Her music has been described as “all head and no heart”, but the fact of the matter is that she just writes about emotion differently than many other musicians. Even her especially left-brained albums like St. Vincent and Masseduction not only have their sentimental moments but are often soaked in a universal fear and distress. This album is emotional in a more recognizable way, but still in her unique St Vincent manner, marketed as her way of dealing with her father’s release from prison and all the strange emotions that provokes.
For instance, the opening track and lead single, “Pay Your Way in Pain”, sounds sort of like a MASSEDUCTION “Pills” redux, as a way of weaning you into the new sound. Its lyrics tell of a sort of nightmare, where the grocery store shelves were all empty, the bank had no record of you, and your locks were all changed. Coupled with the chaotic Masseduction-meets-the-1970s instrumentals, with inexplicable music hall and the synth characteristic of the previous album, it’s an all too real depiction of very human confusion. It takes a real human being to be as disgusted with the world as the performance of St. Vincent is. It takes Annie Clark.
Musically, the album is described as ’70s-inspired, and by that, it means not only classic guitar rock but also funk and soul. That said, it manages to stay distinctly within her voice. It is a large swath of ’70s music done in the style of St. Vincent in the 2020s. Many artists change up their style, and Annie Clark is one of them (just follow her discography), but not all of them have so uniquely developed a voice that it is always obvious. It’s there in the baroque instrumentation, the clever guitar, the discomfort with being alive, the specifically queer and fluid hedonism.
On one hand, the sound is merely the means of conveying the voice for Daddy’s Home, yet a new suit for St Vincent. On the other, the album has endless respect for the genres it emulates. With its soul choirs, rolling funk basslines, and spurts of spoken word, it knows and understands (as much as it can, given that Annie Clark is a white person living in the 2020s) what it aspires to be.
Likewise, the guitar on the album is fairly different from her usual ethereal futurism. Here it’s very much ’70s-inspired, very grounded in that earthy rock style, particularly on tracks like “The Melting of the Sun”. She has a real feel for the classic rock guitar sound, one you rarely hear replicated in 21st-century music (outside of certain psychedelia groups).
The album is more than perfectly competent, a shining, spectacular addition to her discography, one you had no idea you needed, in many ways a return to her old, Marry Me/Actor era sound with all the aural benefits of being post-Masseduction. This is St. Vincent in the ’20s and she is glorious. The production value is spectacular; her songwriting/production partnership with Jack Antonoff is more than paying off.
But that’s not what sticks with me. What I hear now is her new willingness to engage with her micro-scale human side, singing, for instance, of “last night’s heels on the morning train”, on an album dealing with something as personal as her father’s imprisonment. All this newfound, secret worry while still being the same Annie Clark who wrote such quietly angry tracks as “Los Ageless” and “Digital Witnesses”. She will still mock the world, but we got to see more into the life of, not St. Vincent, but Annie Clark herself. Only, of course, what she wants us to see.