If you hadn’t noticed by the album’s cover art – the striking pose, the Einstein-inspired hair – Annie Clark (a.k.a St. Vincent) is something of an eccentric. The opening lyrics of the album (Rattlesnake) further cement her weirdness: “follow the power lines back from the road, no one around so I take off my clothes”. It's a song based on a true story of Clark, naked, confronted by a snake in a Texan desert - not exactly your usual subject matter.
And it’s not the only track with a provocative opening lyric. Following track Birth In Reverse opens with “oh what an ordinary day, take out the garbage, masturbate”. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of St Vincent: a solo album about a woman following solo pursuits; a woman staking her claim as a solo artist after an early career as part of The Polyphonic Spree, Sufjan Stevens’ touring band and 2012’s collaborative album with David Byrne, ‘Love This Giant’.
On ‘St. Vincent’, her fourth album, she continues to marry her eccentricities with an art-rock sensibility in a celebration of her uniqueness – Bowie clearly being a major inspiration. Digital Witness at the centre of the album is a satire on the digital age, social media and reality television (“what’s the point of even sleeping if I can’t show it, if you can’t see me?”) coupled with stomping brass and jagged guitars; Huey Newton has a space age touch and disparate sounding lyrics that erupt in a blaze of guitars in the middle eight; Regret opens with an insistent glam riff; Severed Crossed Fingers closes the album with a suitably epic sounding ballad, amusingly undermined by its meandering synth melodies. The music is in staccato mode throughout (besides the alluring Prince Johnny and lilting I Prefer Your Love), the jerky rhythms and distorted sounds grating together in playful, often otherworldly, creativity.
Despite the weirdness, ‘St. Vincent’ is Clark’s most accessible album to date. As the first of her albums to be released on a major label, it’s clear that she’s courting the mainstream here. For many, ‘St. Vincent’ will be the first introduction to her material, a point only emphasised by the album’s self-title. Yet more so, over the course of her career Clark has refined her sound, incorporating greater elements of pop. This album is full of nagging hooks – from the wailing vocals of Rattlesnake, to the brittle distortion in the chorus of Birth In Reverse, the bubbling stomp of Digital Witness, and the pulsing electronics and dreamy vocals of Psychopath.
There’s still room for further refinement, though. Musically this new material is certainly more palatable, but her frequently ambiguous lyrics sometimes act as a barrier into her world – an offbeat and peculiar world that may straddle the line between bizarre fun and artsy pretense, but is bewitching nonetheless.
* Birth In Reverse
* Digital Witness
Listen: 'St. Vincent' is available now.