‘Masseduction’ album review
By Lauren Kelly, Graphics Manager
St. Vincent, the stage name of Anne (Annie) Clark, released her fifth studio album Masseduction on October 13. Over the past few years, St. Vincent has grown from a critically-acclaimed indie artist to someone known for more than just her music due to her long-term relationship with model Cara Delevingne. Even if she is still mysterious, knowing more about the singer’s life definitely adds some weight to the songs about love, loss, and loneliness.
In album-opener “Hang on Me,” St. Vincent quietly greets us “I know you’re probably sleepin’/I’ve got this thing I been thinkin’/Yeah, I admit I been drinkin’/The void is back and I’m blinkin’.” Second track “Pills” is a fast-paced, disorienting song about her use of pills to help her cope with anxiety and depression and help her sleep. The title track, “Masseduction,” is the first of two songs explicitly and unapologetically about sex from a woman’s perspective. “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” she croons over heavy guitars. What matters in this song is what turns her on, even when it leads to “Massdestruction.” “Sugarboy” is about gender roles, with St. Vincent relating to both genders amid segregating chants of “Boys! Girls! Boys! Girls!” These three tracks form a fantastic run, with the interesting, often hectic instrumentals bringing the listener fully into St. Vincent’s world.
With Masseduction, St. Vincent mixes her early high-tempo tracks with later slow ballads like “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” “New York,” and “Slow Disco.” These are all successfully affecting, particularly “Happy Birthday, Johnny.” The song finds the titular character of “Prince Johnny,” off St. Vincent’s previous album, on the street, begging the singer for some money for food and accusing her of faking a charitous image: “What happened to blood/Our family/Annie, how could you do this to me?” With St. Vincent’s songs, it can be hard to know how much is true and how much is fiction, but the use of her real name in this track makes it feel all the more heartbreakingly real. The only fault to be found with this track is as part of the album as a whole; it is jarringly followed by the sexy “Saviour,” a song about roleplaying as a nurse, nun, or policewoman for her lover, making the previous track’s closing lines “When you get free Johnny/I hope you find peace” lose a little bit of punch.
Masseduction’s first two singles focus on both US coasts, and both deal with loss in their own ways. “New York” reads like a break-up song but St. Vincent has stated that it is more about the loss of Davie Bowie (“I have lost a hero/I have lost a friend”), who is a large source of inspiration for her. The song finds her singing beautifully over a bare piano, with none of her trademark guitar and theatrics. “Los Ageless” brings us back to those signatures, with the singer fighting bitingly against the city while still lamenting the loss of love: “How could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds, too?”
The latter half of the album deals with even heavier subject matter. “Young Lover” is a track more explicitly about her relationship with Delevingne, specifically about her fear over Delevingne’s drug use. The next two songs, “Dancing with a Ghost” and “Slow Disco,” recall “We Put a Pearl in the Ground” and “Landmines” from St. Vincent’s debut album, Marry Me. The first two tracks in both couplets are short instrumental tracks that serve as lead-ins for the latter two, and both are slow songs that deal with the loss of a relationship. In “Landmines,” St. Vincent is searching for her lost partner through landmines that she admits she planted, causing them to leave; in “Slow Disco,” she is the one who leaves, even though she is happy, because it’s better than holding onto a relationship that is just a “slow dance to death.”
The final track is, to me, one of the most affecting. “Smoking Section” deals with suicial ideation—as a way to be free, to deal with the loss of a relationship, and, most worryingly, as a way of getting back at the partner who left. The album ends with a sad, repeated chant: “It’s not the end.”
Having now played four of her five albums on repeat throughout the years (I somehow skipped 2009’s Actor), I find this to be her least sonically consistent album, and also the least sonically interesting. It doesn’t contain anything approaching “Rattlesnake” or “Bring Me Your Loves” in terms of outlandishness, and that’s something that I truly miss. However, unlike her previous albums, the theme of Masseduction does not deal with St. Vincent the character; this one is incredibly more personal. In addition, while it doesn’t have the consistency of her previous albums, its callbacks to them and the inspiration it draws from them make it a treat to listen to as a long-time fan.
This is the album she needed to make right now, since she has spent the last few years in the limelight with her most successful album, St. Vincent, and her relationship starting and ending very publically. I hope her next album shares more in common with St. Vincent (or, a girl can dream, Marry Me), but this is still a wonderful offering.