To be honest, I boycotted the last St. Vincent album, because Love This Giant was SO bad that it almost like reshaped my psyche a bit. I had a harder time, then, knowing what to expect here. This being said, I can’t really say that MASSEDUCTION SHOCKS me in any way (other than of course the album cover), it just really seems like the informant music of our times.
And of course, when it sinks in that this is a gifted individual using essentially all of her gifts (we get some of her signature Fender yanks in the excellent titled track, although they’re more relegated to the background and cloaked in haze), you realize the magnanimity of what she’s actually attempting to accomplish here. For instance, whereas other great albums from this year like Sampha’s Process might play as commentators of specific loneliness which could apply to basically anyone, St. Vincent is creating something much more anthemic. She is, actually, reinventing “cool,” all over this project.
Along these lines, she’s got the annoying New Yorker habit of naming specific Big Apple landmarks in her lyrics (in the emotional centerpiece “Happy Birthday, Johnny” she dogmatizes “Times Square”), and this in a sense undermines some of the more “human” moments, per se, such as the very complex womanly sympathy she’s expressing for this “Johnny,” as well as the self-empathy running wild in the album’s thematic and musical centerpiece, the titled track. She gives us a multifarious snapshot of the city in general, though, some disarming sexuality on the ironically titled “Savior” and then some good ol’ Gaslight-Anthem-type East Coast swagger on “New York” [“(You’re) the only mother fu**er who can handle me”]. I thought it was funny, along these lines, how she cusses in “New York,” but not “Los Ageless,” the latter handling the topic of plastic surgery in the iconic time-frozen.
Vocally, MASSEDUCTION isn’t a marked departure from the artist’s former work, although amusingly I was just thinking today how great Alanis Morissette is and then got reminded of her more than ever listening to this stuff. Other variations however run rampant — for the first time ever St. Vincent actually has a production TEAM, which yes depressingly does make this record a little poppy in parts, but to be honest you’ll be grateful for some pull back to normalcy when you hear some of the stuff she’s spouting off on. It is, indeed, a very sexual album, one in which she comments on both others’ sexuality and her own, neither one very pleasurably, for that matter.
And I’m just going to tell you right now: listening to this LP in a group of people and expecting benign background music might get hazardous. In parts, as in “Pills,” it is powerful in its scathing cultural snarkiness, and then in other sections it ebbs to helpless, crooning balladry for a lost friend (“Happy birthday Johnny / Wherever you are”). It doesn’t really “bump,” or whatever, the way party music might. But then, we did get a new Wu-Tang album today, now didn’t we?