Review Summary: Normalisation gone sour.
American art-pop virtuoso Annie Clark is back with the most chaotic album in her career, in spite of the fact that musically it is trying to sound much more smooth and grounded. But St. Vincent was never a grounded artist. Her eccentric persona and flamboyant music always managed to create an absolutely original and unheard of atmosphere. Her music was always a challenge, a pop extravaganza that combined the whimsical with the demonic, together resulting in an absolutely staggering avant-garde product.
MASSEDUCTION feels more like a brochure of styles St. Vincent might implement in the future, but not like a cohesive and organised album. You could call it a normalisation attempt, but that doesn’t change the fact that the album’s flow is almost entirely all over the place.
The record opens with Hang On Me, a fairly standard tune with the style we’ve grown to expect after her previously released singles New York and Los Angeles. It’s a lavish tune with a strong melody and a solid enough opener. And I suppose this was the original intended direction for the overall album. After all, all the singles and promos indicated that. But the album just can’t stay on one spot and tries to shoot into every direction, which cripples the album’s overall flow. There are lush moments like the title track Masseduction followed by a spastic Sugarboy, or a melancholic New York that turns into bacchanalia Fear the Future, which, in turn, sounds like a strange mutant Annie usually throws out without much announcement as a b-side.
But not everything is tragic. Songs like Pills show extravagance typical for St. Vincent. It’s a cleverly written and progressing track that criticises medicine-addicted society. The track is played brilliantly and has by far one of Annie’s most beautiful outros ever. Also, some of her experiments do eventually work out well. Happy Birthday, Johnny is a sequel to Prince Johnny from her previous album and is a piano ballad set to Annie’s quiet and tender vocals. That’s not that usual for her, but it works perfectly, continuing an utterly stunning narrative further.
This album doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be. It’s strange to hear someone who rarely goes outside of the stylistic boundaries she challenges herself with on each new album, suddenly go into a strange bipolar, helter-skelter, unsure plummet into whatever awaits below, without actually thinking of any particular structure or cohesion.
But you still can’t call this album bad. Even the lows here are done with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and the highs are some of St. Vincent’s best thus far. Still, as is a rule for every artist, eventually you fail at what you do. I’m just glad that we now have St. Vincent’s disappointing moment over with, so that probably means that in the future only quality awaits.