Annie Clark’s self titled album, ‘St Vincent’, her fourth solo studio record, follows two impressive chart performances: 2011’s candid Strange Mercy, and 2012’s collaboration with David Byrne, Love This Giant, one of our favourite albums of 2012. (Read the full review here).
Although an impressive and eclectic collaboration (would you expect anything less from Clarke or Byrne?), ‘Love This Giant’ disappointed many St. Vincent fans with the lack of guitar work on the record and unfortunately, these fans won’t have their appetites sated much by this new record.
Returning more closely to her ‘Strange Mercy’ style, opening tracks ‘Rattlesnake’ and single ‘Birth in Reverse’ are upbeat, and lull you into a false sense of security for the rest of the album. It is on these first tracks that we see Clark embrace her main instrument the most and while it is sparse, when she lets the guitar track ride, her playing, like her lyrics, is dark and eerie.
She settles into a more consistent routine on the beat-driven tracks, “Prince Johnny” and “Huey Newton”, the latter a particularly intriguing track that progresses from a Gospel tinged ballad into a Brit-pop/Zeppelin blues mash-up. The past is referenced as well on the latter-album prog-rock gem “Every Tear Disappears” and “I Prefer Your Love”, a distant cousin of Bowie’s “Space Odyssey”, or at least the sound of exiting the Earth’s atmosphere. This track also features some of Clark’s best lyrics where she explores the relationship between a mother and daughter and tells her mother, “I prefer your love to Jesus”.
“Digital Witness” revisits similar ground to ‘Love This Giant’s opening single, “Who”, though fails to make the same use of its horn section. Its chorus nudges at the impressive, but collectively it feels disjointed and a bit contrived. Indeed much of the album’s middle feels disjointed, tracks like ‘Bring Me Your Love’ and ‘Regret’ bring little to the album, though the latter’s use of Super Mario-like synths is somewhat entertaining.
“Severed Crossed Fingers” finishes the album with the words “Found my severed crossed fingers in the rubble there” (perhaps that’s why there was such little guitar work on the album) and that’s what the back end of the album feels like: severed cut-offs from previous albums, ‘Strange Mercy’ and ‘Love This Giant’. While the first half of the album builds up a strong head of steam with a liberal dose of guitar and Clarke’s entrancing lyrics. It’s a pity it drops off as the album progresses. An undeniably talented musician, with an amazing talent for writing lyrics, Clarke goes on. Containing undeniably great songs, much of the record sees Clark feeling more confident to experiment in grandiose ways. It is nevertheless not her best effort and whilst it is surely her intention, it is still disappointing she never lets us hear more of her axe!