Review Summary: Is he?Daddy’s Home
. My goodness. Annie Clark is no stranger to daring concepts; her records as St. Vincent are always carried by a striking direction that practically everyone ‘gets’, but few manage (or particularly need) to parse as a comprehensive Statement. Nae bother so far, but none of her past work put itself in line for shallow misrepresentation quite so brazenly as this one. We’re in no hurry - here’s a quick skim over the multitudes liable to short-circuit over Daddy’s Home
: protectivist hipsters will curl their lips at its seventies funk/soul pastiche, any prudes who survived 2017’s MASSEDUCTION
may feel that a line has been crossed in its mix of heady glamour with pa-behind-bars subject matter, and daytripping misogynists in poptimist jumpsuits will have a field day over Clark dressing up and trotting out the golden days of debauchery with that
album art. She’s just not David Bowie, is she?
Park all that. An unravelling is in order; there’s a lot going on here, but, from interview trawling and the undervalued technique of listening to the damn album, I think we can break it down to three broad layers. Let’s start at the root of all things: Layer #1 is Daddy. Clark’s father was jailed from 2010 to 2019 for involvement in a stock manipulation scheme. This period saw the flourishing of her career and the successive births of her most memorable roster of personas; was Papa Vincent a (mostly) unspoken presence behind all of this? Perhaps, but he’s front and centre for the direction on this one; Daddy’s Home
stems from a complex juggle of faith, love and self reflection, a long look back over the past and present of having been temporarily deprived of a parent and forever losing a role model.
What does that look like? Clark needs an appropriate canvas to hash out such a messy inspiration, and that gives us Layer #2: the seventies. As Clark touches on in interview with the Guardian, that era was a post-idealist sleazeheap that saw the values of the Summer of Love sublimate into sentimentalist hangovers and commodification; the doors were open for a wave of icons whose timeless attractions falter under scrutiny. David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan, post-Beatles John Lennon: these figures demand reservations, concessions or uneasy blind-eyes unlikely to be afforded if their careers took place in the present, and yet people continue to find good reasons to adore them. The parallels between this kind of ambivalent, self-aware admiration and Clark’s attitude to her father’s conviction should be obvious, but she broadens the point into a contrast with the moral absolutism adopted across the armchairs of contemporary media. Nobody’s perfect, but the seventies equipped us with a superior standpoint to engage with feelings of affection towards dubious role models rather than, y’know, cancelling the living shit out of them, or so Clark claims - and so it is that, among many other touchstones, Daddy’s Home
resurrects Young Americans
in all its ridiculous soul glory not out of faithful nostalgia, but with a pronounced self-awareness of its underlying perversions. You can practically hear the accelerating thuds of stuffy heartbeats the world over.
This sets things in motion, but it’s the final, veneering Layer #3 that really cuts Daddy’s Home
out as a St. Vincent record: an ever-inscrutable veil of artistry, woven from startling stylistic choices and selectively evasive lyricism. While she’s never resorted to pure formalism, Clark has always drawn steep intrigue from hiding half her cards behind her aesthetic of the moment. Daddy’s Home
is no exception. Whenever its conceptual focus blurs (in true seventies fashion, this happens frequently enough), it challenges its audience to orientate themselves around whatever is going on stylistically. Clark keeps her stanzas terse and diffuses her retro whims across a spread of funk (“Daddy’s Home”), psychedelic (“Live in the Dream”), country (“Someone Like Me“) and soul (“My Baby Wants A Baby”), all of which is pulled off with just enough blasé lethargy not to be overstuffed. This album jams
, turning every moment Clark puts her pen down into an opportunity to stretch out its groove and winding itself around her growling vocalises like a clingy polecat on absinthe, or whichever feral glamourpuss you'd put there.
This coincides nicely with the album’s most pleasant surprise: for the first time in a long
while (I want to say since 2017), co-producer/co-creator Jack Antonoff sounds like he’s been given something worthwhile to sink his teeth into. His trademark slickness finally finds an edge in Clark’s louche vision; the pair’s creative liberties may be occasionally goofy (CW: sitar) but they’re aesthetically consistent and, when they find their groove, heavily refreshing outings for both parties. “Melting of the Sun”, “My Baby Wants A Baby” and “Live in the Dream” in particular stand out as the strongest St. Vincent tracks since her 2014 self-titled album, and the funk-outs on “Daddy’s Home” and “Down” are delivered with relish, giving the sense that Antonoff and Clark alike had an uncharacteristically good time making this record (it does well to remember that they split the lion’s share of instrumental credits between themselves).
Shock of all horrors, it’s far from perfect! Opener “Pay Your Way In Pain“ borders on obnoxious with its misplaced synthline, one of the album’s few obtrusive anachronisms, and the remaining songs are either short of good hooks, overly listless, or both. “Someone Like Me”’s chorus would land as the album’s least memorable moment were it one beat less mercilessly protracted, while “…At The Holiday Party” back to back with “Candy Darling” makes for a hugely underwhelming closing combination, one non-starter after another. Still, the album scores where it needs to, landing a respectable formal translation of the proverbial Layer #2 into the profitable Layer #3.
Whether all this sees the Daddy Layer off as a convincing statement is rather dubious. While frequently enjoyable, the album’s pastiche is messy enough that it really does need to ground itself this way; it adjusts its footing a few times too many to hold down a clear centre of gravity and its downbeat cuts often find themselves overshadowed by its more strident funks. The lulls here are too major not to seem designed; where is that all-important central focus that you’d expect to step in and tie them to something cogent? However, Clark is reluctant as ever to trot out thematic encapsulations; beyond “Pay Your Way In Pain” howling hymn to consequence and responsibility and “Daddy’s Home“ anecdotal romp there’s little that stands out as central to the record’s professed inspirations. Instead, she treats us to a series of sidelong glances at poorly disguised unhappiness (“…At The Holiday Party”), gleeful acts of revenge on past abusers (“Down”), tongue-in-cheek ruminations on responsibility and commitment (“My Baby Wants A Baby”) and, above all, reticent self-positionings with regard to her own icon status (“Someone Like Me”, “Melting of the Sun”, “Live In The Dream”).
These latter tracks are perhaps the most revealing on the album; contrary to its inspiration, Daddy’s Home
is less directly about Daddy Clark’s return to society and much more about his daughter’s ongoing celebrity self-examination. She turns her persona on itself, asking the uneasy questions and leaving them hanging. Does it make you a genius or the fool of the week / to believe enough in somebody like me?
, she poses on “Someone Like Me”, only to shrug it off with a vacuous hippyism: Time tells us things (I guess we’ll see) / That you and I can’t see
. In “Melting of the Sun” she charts out a pantheon of female songwriters and showbiz icons, only to cast doubts over her own legacy in their wake as a benzo beauty queen
. This conjecture feels flim and misplaced in both tracks; where past St. Vincents offered a mercurial range of self-fashioning, this one finds herself a little preoccupied with her own station.
Something here is muddled. Cogent as Layers #1 thru #3 are on paper, Daddy’s Home
’s wooziness and postulation frequently scan as indulgences enabled by its seventies roots rather than incisive takes on its subject matter. It has its moments of clarity; “My Baby Wants A Baby” is a particularly good case study for Clark at her most cutting, flitting between humorous, confrontational and wearily graceful registers with deeply sardonic flair. However, the record as a whole is limp in its engagement with what should be its burning question: at the end of the day, how healthy or valuable is it to lean into decadence as recourse to challenging emotional or moral conflicts with the people who should be your prized role models? Clark has never been afraid to unsettle her audience, and she raises the question shrewdly enough off-record, but, as per the artwork, this guise of St. Vincent leans back and shrugs off the weight of the issue with something styled as elegance but perhaps closer to callousness. It is what it is
, she seems to slur, before raising a handmirror and locking eyes with her own stardom. True to both character and the album’s palette it may be, but it’s far from her strongest statement and fails to carry a set of songs that all too often need a push in the right direction.