If you’ve followed indie-rock musician St. Vincent’s career, you may have noticed that each album she produces reaches greater commercial success than her previous releases. Her self-titled album, which came out in 2014, peaked at No. 12 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart and earned the musician a Grammy award for Best Alternative Music Album. If her newest endeavor, “MASSEDUCTION,” follows suit, it should reach even greater acclaim.
Aside from an upward trajectory in popularity, this album adheres to the capacity that the artist has for keeping her sound new and distinct in each album. “MASSEDUCTION” is the fifth record from the solo St. Vincent, the stage name of Annie Clark, and the variety of glam-rock and electropop numbers, along with the stripped-back piano ballads, distance her latest work from even her recent, heavily synthesized albums.
This album opens with “Hang On Me,” a hushed and slow-paced late-night call that St. Vincent makes to a romantic partner. She expresses a few dark, profound anxieties — taxi cabs crashing and planes hurtling out of the sky — while the central line of the song dictates, “You and me / We’re not meant for this world,” echoing the unearthly and occasionally ethereal persona Clark has maintained for the past few years. It’s an excellent precursor to what the listener is about to embark upon: Identity, on a number of deeply personal levels, controls the album, and that theme repeats itself in nearly every song.
In the supersaturated “Sugarboy,” St. Vincent growls in the lowest register of her voice, “I am a lot like you (boys) / I am alone like you (girls),” expressing the fluidity of her own gender identity, while she contemplates the different sexual guises and costumes she’s placed herself in for the satisfaction of others in “Savior.” Even the overtly erotic hook of the title song’s chorus, “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” alludes to the idea that St. Vincent is closer to an electronic entity than a human one, aligning herself with the sound she produces throughout the album.
Despite this instance of coherency, it’s easy to hear the album as disjointed due to the sequence Clark has chosen for her track list, particularly in the middle of the record. Aggressive and lovelorn “Los Ageless” is jarring when placed next to “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” a piano ballad in which St. Vincent mourns a dissolved friendship, and “Savior” sounds almost crass when it prefaces heartbreak-centered “New York.” A closer listen reveals that these songs are carefully connected, though: the outro of “Los Ageless” features St. Vincent whispering, “I try to write you a love song, but it comes out a lament,” and the desperate, dramatic “please” that she wails in “Savior” is less suggestive than it is melancholy by the end of the song.
A number of St. Vincent’s first songs on the album face repercussions later in the track list, too: “Pills,” a song filled with static, forced delight over the stabilizing effects of drugs, meets its match on the B-side of the album when the musician’s “Young Lover” overdoses on a mix of medications she can’t even pronounce. In “Sugarboy,” she rather romantically claims she has “a crush on tragedy,” a statement that also becomes abundantly clear in “Young Lover,” when she voices, “I wish that I was your drug.”
In terms of subject matter and lyricism, this album is St. Vincent’s most accessible yet. Typically, her songs are opaque in their messages and instead opt to promote a feeling — she’s selective with what information she lets her listeners know about her private life, and has publicly expressed her disdain for artists who immediately explain the meanings of their songs. As eloquent as her lyrics are, parts — if not the entirety of her older songs — use such elaborate imagery that they might as well have been written in code. The songs of “MASSEDUCTION” are far more direct, which not only entertains the abject sexuality of songs like “Masseduction” and “Savior,” but also the bleaker sides of the album that examine topics like addiction, overdose and suicide. These topics are certainly not the first somber ones that St. Vincent has explored within her music, but for the first time, her meaning comes across to the listener instantaneously.
When St. Vincent announced the album, she declared that it was the “boldest work [she’d] ever done,” and it’s her openness about her personal life that makes this statement true.