Few contemporary artists are capable of creating An Event like St Vincent. A good deal of this has to do with her constant, multi-level transformations – sonically, visually, thematically, each time Annie Clark re-emerges with new music, she’s not so much totally unrecognisable, as an uncanny-valley inversion of her previous self (or selves), each iteration bearing traces of what went before without entirely reproducing a predecessor.
Trailed by a clever, referential marketing campaign and presented alongside a characteristically radical overhaul of her personal and creative aesthetic, Daddy’s Home feels like a real moment for Clark; not only is it an incredibly successful metamorphosis, the album goes some way to resolving many of the tensions at the heart of her music, without doing her the disservice of showing her hand entirely.
If 2017’s Masseduction was Clark’s Blue Velvet, a carnal, unsettling, strangely unknowable psychosexual thriller, Daddy’s Home is her Twin Peaks – a superficially warmer and more welcoming statement whose darkness is veiled by luxuriant, tactile arrangements. Lead single ‘Pay Your Way In Pain’ is a case in point: at first, its Prince groove and chorus nod to Bowie’s ‘Fame’ hog the limelight, perfectly-crafted pop components sashaying in and out of focus. It’s only on repeat listens that you notice the rhythmic whimpers and desperate gasps that line the fringes of the track’s ersatz funk.
Even for St Vincent, the artistic vision of Daddy’s Home is incredibly well-realised. Perhaps that has something to do with the personal nature of its subject matter – it’s probably easier to realise a vision that’s already being played out in front of you. Clark’s father spent most of the last decade in prison, and was released in 2019, which not only explains the title of the record, but much of its emotional content. This results in a more human version of Clark than the PVC-clad dominatrix of Masseduction or the perfectly-poised replicant of 2014’s self-titled album; her vocal delivery, lyricism and even guitar playing have a newly organic timbre that at least seems less affected. Tracks like ‘Down and Out Downtown’ and ‘…At The Holiday Party’ breeze along atop the kind of ’70s Gil Scott-Heron instrumentation that sounds effortless, but is so rarely accomplished with this level of panache or attention to detail, testament to both Clark’s near-peerless level of technical skill and her (somewhat) newfound lightness of touch.
Exactly how truly ‘confessional’ or otherwise the record is, one can only speculate. But that’s beside the point really; since she dropped the self-described ‘asexual Pollyanna’ shtick of her first couple of records, Clark appears to have been on a quest to locate something darker, stranger, more cathartic, deep within herself, however discomfiting that search might prove. Daddy’s Home at least begins to answer the question this process has been raising increasingly insistently over the last couple of records: what happens to St Vincent once she’s finished plumbing the Freudian depths, comes back through the looking-glass, and reintroduces herself to whatever it is reality has become since she left?
In aesthetic terms, Daddy’s Home might not quite be the boldest or most arresting artistic statement we’ve seen from St Vincent, but considering she’s among the most consistently innovative and compelling artists of her generation, that’s hardly a failure. It is, however, easily her most coherent and candid yet; whoever she becomes next, this Annie Clark has achieved something special.
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