The fifth studio album put out by Annie Clark as St. Vincent threw me off-guard from the first song of the album. Even the album title MASSEDUCTION almost reads like “MASS EDUCATION” initially. Clark is trying to send us a message with pumping 808-sounding electronic drums and soft falsetto all contributing to a 90s/early 2000’s feel, as if Clark is an ironic Michelle Branch.
The first song, “Hang on Me,” is a confessional from the start, she meekly “admit[s] [she’s] been drinking,” as a coping mechanism. Although she is showing vulnerability she insists, “hang on me,” although she “cannot stop the aeroplane from crashin’.” The album is a juxtaposition of simplified instrumentation and at points, lyricism with complex ideas constantly distorting and morphing from pop choruses through warped transitions that fade in and out of fever dreams.
One of these fever dreams is “Pills,” which personifies itself as a stepford wife with Cara Delevingne’s vocal feature; a repetitive and too-cheery chorus singing “Pills to wake, pills to sleep – pills, pills, pills every day of the week; pills to walk, pills to think…” This truly personal song also seems to be commentary on hyper-prescribing enforced by pharmaceutical companies in the United States. Clark pleads with her audience, “I can’t even swim in these waves I made,” then transitions into an outro that is truly reminiscent of the late David Bowie, not only in the sound itself, but in that it is a call to action, “Come all you wasted, wretched, and scorned; // come on and face it, come join the war.”
“Masseduction,” the title track bears the facade of being a dance song, but follows a Gaga-esque take on sexual liberation. The references to Catholicism and youth line up with this concept as well, as with patriarchal cultures in general there’s an inclination to control women’s sexuality for one reason or another. This directly transitions into “Sugarboy,” which is kicked up into hyperspeed, detuned and similar to Of Montreal’s 2016 song “Let’s Relate.” Both songs discuss gender or identity fluidity. “I’m a lot like you (Boys!)” she asserts the capability for humans to experience identity in such a fluid manner.
“Sugarboy” then dissolves into absolute chaos and noise, leaving space for “Los Angeless,” to sweep in like a bat. The most melodic guitar of the album layered over an 80’s goth pop contagious chorus.
The album slows down with personal songs like “Happy Birthday Johnny,” with the addition of more of the St. Vincent guitar riffs that the listener was so looking forward to. Yet another play on Catholic prudence, “Savior” is about sexual freedom, and like she is reaching toward lofty concepts, while remaining personal, staying true to herself. “I can’t be your savior,” and “I’m not your martyr” repeat in different contexts identifying this concept of holding women to such high standards in relationships.
Many of these songs deal with suicidal thoughts, the concept of addiction, and dealing with it personally, or knowing someone close to you who is an addict. Although, after the concept is introduced in “Hang on Me,” Clark doesn’t really readdress it until “Young Lover,” where she refers to an addict in her life, wishing that she could be “[their] drug.”
“Dancing with a Ghost” is a quiet instrumental that transitions into “Slow Disco.” Listeners are growing closer, more intimate with Clark as the album goes on, which helps to understand the reason why she would feel the need to perhaps, deflect, using irony. The chorus of “Slow Disco” is “Slip my hand from your hand, // leave you dancin’ with a ghost,” and repeats twice. The words are spaced patiently, and infer that the singer may be leaving this world, and their lover.
Huge breaks of silence between sections pace these songs incredibly slow. “Smoking Section” almost seems as if it’s the third part to the “Dancing with a Ghost” // “Slow Disco” series, and is about suicide from start to finish – the slow, drawn out manner of killing yourself by smoking cigarettes, or treating your body poorly through drug and alcohol use, to a more literal metaphor of shooting oneself. She writes “I think I’ll jump just to punish you,” in one of the last verses before the bridge and final refrain, when the feeling begins to change. The final refrain of the album is “it’s not the end,” a moody declaration that she is stronger than what she is going through.