For St. Vincent, champagne birthday not all that bubbly
For a woman who looks more doe-eyed and cutesy than Zooey Deschanel, Annie Clark, otherwise known as St. Vincent, has a lot on her mind. At 28 years old, Clark makes it clear on her third album, “Strange Mercy,” that with age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes disappointment.
Clark, whose voice sounds like a powerful hybrid of Karen O, Regina Spektor and Corin Tucker, pairs her pipes with fierce guitar licks and nicely synthesized beats. The musical arrangements are spectacular and neatly organized, but it is Clark’s haunting lyrics that showcase her growth as an artist. Throughout the album, Clark struggles to make sense of the aging process and her own personal metamorphosis.
The album kicks off with a French new-wave inspired track, “Chloe in the Afternoon.” It seems like Clark is establishing her credibility as an artist with a dark side. Based on the 1972 film of the same name, this track places Clark in the shoes of a married businessperson who steps out of the office for quick romps with a lover, who is yielding a “horse-hair whip,” of course.
In the songs “Cruel” and “Cheerleader,” Clark reflects upon her own insecurities. It is easy to see how a woman with a feminine voice and babydoll features could feel labeled by the music industry as a bubbly indie-pop rock artist.
She confessed in “Cheerleader,” “I’ve played dumb when I knew better, tried so hard just to be clever.”
Clark does not want to be a cheerleader anymore. In fact, as she purred in the eerie track, “Surgeon,” “I spent the summer on my back.”
At first listen, that opener sounds blatantly sexual. However, as she repeated, “…just to get along,” at the end of every stanza, it becomes clear that this is a song about depression. As she does frequently on this album, Clark reminds listeners that she is not to be taken lightly.
The next track, “Northern Lights,” is the first time that aging comes into play on the album. In 2010, Clark celebrated her golden birthday, otherwise known as her champagne year. Through lyrics like, “It’s a champagne year, full of sober months,” Clark admits her dissatisfaction towards the changes in her life. Over an arrangement that screams surf-rock, perhaps this is her last-ditch attempt at youthfulness. Clark tells herself that she has “gotta get young fast, gotta get young quick, gotta make this last.”
“Strange Mercy,” “Neutered Fruit” and “Champagne Year” are some of the most notable songs on the album. Musically, they sound experimental, but they differ from the earlier tracks because they are softer and less new wave. The lyrics are also some of Clark’s finest. She may be struggling with feelings of disenchantment, but she will find a way to survive. In “Champagne Year” she admitted that, “I’ll make a living telling people what they wanna hear, it’s not a killing but it’s enough to keep the cobwebs clear.”
“Strange Mercy” may not have a happy ending, but it possesses a beautiful rawness that could only come from an artist who is determined to share nothing but the truth.
Though St. Vincent strives to remove the listener’s rose-colored glasses, never fear, for an album of this caliber suggests that the music industry is on the upswing, and with that in mind, is life really so bad?
St. Vincent will be playing at the Neptune Theater in Seattle on Oct. 31.