“Yeah, but can you do it sleazier?” That’s what Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, kept telling the musicians with whom she recorded her sixth studio album. And oh boy, did they deliver. Channelling the slinky-seedy grooves of Seventies New York, they’ve created a soul-sodden soundscape you can sink into like a velveteen bean bag. Ideally while slugging a retro cocktail you’ve stirred with a cold stiletto.
Daddy’s Home is a surprisingly squishy album from a guitar virtuoso who’s spent the past decade making increasingly hard-edged songs. When I spoke to her back in 2014, she described making music as a means of externalising her inner chaos by thrashing out “gory splotches”. But, in recent interviews, she admits she’s taken the angular noises as far as she can. After touring 2018’s hyper sexual Masseduction in thigh-high boots, she told thefortyfive.com: “I made sure that nothing I wore was comfortable. Everything was about stricture and structure and latex.”
So this record, she told The Independent last month, is “very much like, ‘Welcome to this world, have a seat, have a drink’, instead of aggressively, presentationally, ‘I’ll choke you until you like this’.” Although the songwriting is still strongly structured beneath the surface, it’s now built on Le Corbusier curves instead of right angles.
The backstory to Daddy’s Home is one fans are already familiar with. Clark’s father was jailed in 2010 for his role in a $43m “pump-and-dump” stock manipulation scheme, then released in 2019. Her lyrics contain scattered references to his story. Most explicitly, the title track begins: “I signed autographs in the visitation room/ Waiting for you the last time, inmate 502.” Apparently her dad’s fellow inmates all became big fans. But the songs aren’t Martha Wainwright-levels of confessional. Instead, Clark has used her experience with her dad as a jumping-off point from which to explore the lives of “flawed people”, taking influence from his record collection. There are snatches of David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, Steely Dan and Sly & The Family Stone swirling through the modern mix.
Co-produced by Jack Antonoff (with whom Clark made Masseduction), the album opens with a jaunty blast of Hunky Dory-indebted piano before squelching into the pouty glam-grind of “Pay Your Way in Pain”. It’s a song that squirms through a woozy maze of melodies as Clark scuzzes up her once-porcelain vocals with lines about her pain and shame. “I went to the park just to watch the little children,” she sings. “The mothers saw my heels and they said I wasn’t welcome.”
Those heels come up again on the sling-back grooves of “Down and Out Downtown”: “Last night’s heels, on the morning train…” Clark rocks a Coral sitar instead of a guitar on the track, as a jazzy flute dips in and out of the mix. The notes swell and float hypnotically beneath her fingers, like bubbles in a lava lamp. There’s a great funk snap to “Daddy’s Home”. “Owww!” Clark yowls repeatedly towards the end of the track, sinking her claws deep into the full stretch of the vowel like a feline James Brown. Things get trippier on “Live the Dream”, with its spaced-out echoes of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The melody nods at “Us and Them”, while the bombast of “The Great Gig in the Sky” lies in the bass line lurking beneath the surface.
Pink Floyd’s 1973 album gets a proper name check on “The Melting Sun”, on which Clark pays tribute to the mould-breaking female artists who came before her. While she sings of “Saint Joni”, she allows her vocals to drift into Tori Amos’s mic-kissing growl; her excellent backing singers wallop soul into her quote from Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”. “So who am I trying to be?” asks Clark. She’s often said she didn’t directly encounter the misogyny fought by her heroines. So here she sings: “But me, I never cried/ To tell the truth, I lied…”
There’s pretty acoustic finger picking on the hazily romantic “Somebody Like Me” and an unexpected subverting of Sheena Easton’s 1981 hit “9 to 5” (or “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” as it was released under in the US). While Easton sang of the domestic bliss she felt waiting at home all day for her hard-working man, sitar-slinging Clark purrs: “I wanna play guitar all day/ Make all my meals in microwaves/ Only get dressed when I get paid/ How can it be wrong?”
As the album closes, Clark delivers the gorgeous “…At The Holiday Party” (with golden brass swelling beneath Stevie Wonder keys and the taught rattle of Antonoff’s drums) and “Candy Darling”: a soft-sweet tribute to the transgender actor and Velvet Underground muse who died of lymphoma, aged just 29, in 1974. “High life, low life,” sighs Clark, “I brought bodega roses for your feet.”
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It sounds – for the first time in a decade – like Clark has slipped out of her high heels and found an equal strength in this barefooted soul. I’m wary of implying this is the real Clark though, because I think all her personae are equally authentic expressions. As Candy Darling used to say: “I’m a thousand different people. Every one is real.”
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