For reasons that won’t be too difficult to fathom, St Vincent’s ‘New York’ was the single song that spoke to me with particular profundity in 2017. It appeared out of nowhere one day on the radio and its devastatingly honest account of the brutal hole left by a break-up hit me right in the gut.
I very nearly cried when it came on the car radio one day. It probably didn’t help that I’d just turned over from listening to a Walker Brothers best of.
I have lost a hero, I have lost a friend. But for you, darling, I’d do it all again.
Boy, the sun really ain’t gonna shine anymore.
The sparsity and rawness of this song compared to, possibly, St Vincent’s biggest song, ‘Digital Witness’ is astounding. Where that 2014 song was a slickly produced piece of fun pop (with a dystopian undercurrent), ‘New York’ was just bare misery with only the most basic of piano accompaniments underscore the heartbreak.
My next noteworthy encounter with St Vincent’s material from 2017 (ignoring me buying the album and digesting and re-digesting it ad finitum in the privacy of my own earphone), was when she appeared on Graham Norton’s BBC1 show one Friday night. She was the only guest not to be a cast member of the then forthcoming Murder on the Orient Express. She was also the only guest to be wearing (or more generally not wearing) a tight-fitting bright red rubber number.
In the normal course of events this would not have caused me any concern. Only in this particular instance, my rather conservative parents were visiting and the whole performance of ‘Los Ageless’ felt like a trip back in time to all those times a sudden bout of rumpy-pumpy had exploded in the middle of something we’d been watching as a family and I had became overwhelmed with a compulsive need to do the washing up – for everyone in the street.
Fortunately a distraction was available: Mum and Dad managed to spend the entire performance expressing their confusion about the apparent displacement of the tuning pegs on her guitar: four on one side, two on the other. So that was all right.
Turns out Annie Clark had designed the guitar herself.
Aside from the weapon of mass distraction that was St Vincent’s outfit and, of course, tuning pegs, ‘Los Ageless’ also has lyrics to speak to the broken hearted: ‘How could anyone have you/how could anyone have you and lose you/how could anyone have you and lose you and not lose their minds too?’
It’s delivered with more bombast and bells and whistles than ‘New York’, but that emotional angst is still there.
The album as a whole is about not fitting in with the rest of the world (“I can’t turn off what turns me on” from the title track), the alternating comfort and discomfort with the situation and the need to have someone with whom to share the ride in such a situation.
There is, for example “You and me/we’re not meant for this world” from the opener ‘Hang on Me’ and “you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me” from ‘New York’. And there’s also the complicated tale of former partners in crime that emerges in ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ – the final in a triptych of ‘Johnny’ songs over the course of St Vincent’s records.
Against this theme of making sense of ones dissonant relationship with the rest of the world, Masseduction sounds fantastic. It’s riddled with exciting ideas, the melody of one tune (‘Los Ageless’) appearing as a leitmotif/riff in another (‘Pills’). There’s the contrast of the bareness of ‘New York’ and ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’ with all the spectacle and pomp of other tunes (‘Fear the Future’, for example).
It’s a fantastic album that covers so many bases and sounds astoundingly brilliant at the same time. And this is why you really should have got your hands on it by now.