Described by Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, as “glamour that hasn’t slept for three days”, Daddy’s Home, her sixth studio album, channels the pre-gentrified New York of CBGB’s and block parties, of queer subculture and nascent disco/ hip hop experiments. We’re talking 70s seediness here, with the atmosphere of Warhol starlets haunting places – indeed, Candy Darling is referenced, even getting her own song to close the album, a sad-eyed country downer.
Produced alongside Jack Antonoff, there is a huge emphasis on funk and gospel, but a greater focus, too, on lived experience – the slinky but savage Down for example, addresses her father’s incarceration, as well as the sassy title track, and The Laughing Man sounds submerged in water, as Clark coos, in a detached way, “If life’s a joke, I’m dyin’ laughin'”. She may be wearing yet another persona, but her songs feel more real, more exposed.
Clark always seems most effective when there’s a push and pull – the push of slickness; versus the pull towards something darker and dangerous. Earlier songs like Cruel from Strange Mercy, deftly exemplified this before, Disney sweetness with mascara running and bursts of guitar shredding. So it is with lead single, Pay Your Way In Pain which takes the feline early funk of Prince and puts a female twist onto it, with its teasing delivery and unmistakable Clark guitar lines.
The nod to Sheena Easton’s 9 To 5 melody line on My Baby Wants A Baby is an unexpected twist, and there’s another reference to female icons in The Melting Of The Sun, a stoned nursery rhyme taking in Marilyn Monroe, Nina Simone, Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell, and begging to see them as women first and foremost, rather than the images they’ve been reduced to.
Best of all are the kaleidoscopic Down And Out Downtown, with its sitar and strings, which sit nicely alongside Clark’s new, more relaxed vocals, and the gorgeous, affecting Somebody Like Me, all wistful sighs and pedal steel guitar. It sounds like an aching hangover after a weekend bender with Harry Nilsson, full of rumination, trying to piece together what happened.
There may be perfect manicured nails scratching at this album’s grooves then, but there’s also a claw-like grip on subversion. Never underestimate Clark and her ability to U-turn. It’s a sad, subtle and deliberate move away from her trademark knowing pop. Introspection suits her.