MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent: A musical short story collection

MASSEDUCTION cover

Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

label: Loma Vista Recordings

release date: October 13, 2017

This is not a music blog since I am not cool enough to have a music blog I lack the vocabulary to write coherently about music: I still don’t get the difference between a chorus and a bridge, and I’m fuzzy on what distinguishes a guitar from bass.

That’s why I’m delighted when I can describe an album I love in words instead of vague handwaving, and MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent is that kind of album.

St. Vincent’s previous work has often been described as “literate,” which strikes me as a code word for an artist who’s too smart and uncompromising to be appreciated by the teeming masses. As an ardent defender of the teeming masses, however, I’d much rather describe her as “literary”: someone who turns each song into an opportunity to tell a story and play with language.

Interestingly enough, St. Vincent–whose real name is Annie Clark–did a song for the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack back in 2009, which must have been my first introduction to her music, though the track doesn’t stand out in my memory. For all people love to hate on Twilight, I always appreciated the forum it provided for the freaks and fangirls of the world (myself included) to talk about power, kink, and beautiful people.

So, it seems fitting that MASSEDUCTION is similarly freaky, kinky, and beautiful, and thankfully, Annie Clark is a lot better at words than Stephenie Meyer.

MASSEDUCTION rockets from a breathy song about a drunk-dial (“Hang On Me”) to manic odes–or laments–to fame like “Los Ageless.” A throbbing sadness creeps in at the midpoint–“Happy Birthday, Johnny” recounts the pain of a friend’s addiction–that is jolted but never fully banished by erotic, frantic romps like “Savior” and “Young Lover.” The closing track, “Smoking Section,” captures the experience of mental illness as perfectly as I’ve ever heard, especially as Clark repeats depression’s favorite taunt over and over: “let it happen, let it happen.”

Clark’s narrative control is striking. Each song is a self-contained capsule of emotion–most often, manic anxiety or dreamy melancholy–while still forwarding an overarching story. A lot has been made of the fact that Clark wrote this album on the heels of her break-up with supermodel Cara Delevingne, and pangs of lost love are definitely present here alongside the glitz and terror of superstardom. But to reduce this album to autobiography or tell-all would be a mistake.

The story collection is a fraught format. No matter how good your stories are on their own, juxtaposing them threatens to expose your weak points, your repetitions, your idiosyncrasies, your weird and boring obsessions. Clark sidesteps these pitfalls admirably by excelling at several things: one, by choosing interesting obsessions–fame, sex, and love are rabbit holes we’re eager to fall down–and two, by maintaining a tone that is both edgy and vulnerable.

It takes a certain amount of guts to pose for your album cover in a leopard-print onesie, and it takes even more to shriek “I can’t turn off what turns me on” (“MASSEDUCTION”) for an audience of millions. Most of us have felt it; Clark is brave enough to say it. It also takes a certain self-awareness to conclude your album by singing “it’s not the end” over and over through a lump in your throat (“Smoking Section”), and it’s exactly what Clark does.

MASSEDUCTION taunted me with an honesty truer than truth. I don’t care whether the events Clark describes really happened or not; I do care that this web of music and stories have captured me for weeks.  If we were ever to see a St. Vincent-penned book, I’d be first in line to buy it. In the meantime, I’ll keep listening.

I first heard this album on Spotify and was in no way compensated for this review.

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