St. Vincent has always been confident in her abilities (the credits for debut Marry Me show her having played thirteen different instruments), but on this latest release she’s displaying a different sort of confidence – that of believing in the strength of her songs. While previous efforts have been jammed full of sounds she restricts herself here to just guitar and vocals, with backing musicians providing drums, Minimoog and other synthesisers. The songs are given space in which to speak for themselves.
Sadly, in places, they don’t have very much to say. There’s the plod-plod-plodding I Prefer Your Love, which sounds like something Madonna would have pissed out in the ’90s, and the truly appalling Bring Me Your Loves which, if it didn’t have St. Vincent’s name on it, I’d have sworn was a production team’s response to a favour being called in. It’s terrible pop shite with banal lyrics (“Bring me your loves all your loves your loves I wanna love them too you know” ad infinitum). I don’t know what it’s doing on this record but I can only assume it’s a mistake. Every Tear Disappears is another piece of pap pop devoid of passion. It sounds empty and lost, and not in an interesting way.
Not that I’ve got anything against pop – the intro to Psychopath sounds for all the world like a Sugababes song, and has a killer chorus to boot. Regret is also boosted by having a strong chorus, while Digital Witness is simply majestic (the video too – check it out below). In fact the album gets off to a really good start with the double bill of Rattlesnake and Birth In Reverse, but the next two – Prince Johnny and Huey Newton – are pretty forgettable.
The closing track gives us some hope. Severed Crossed Fingers is a gorgeous, delicate ballad with a divine lyric. The couplet “We’ll be heroes on every bar stool when / Seeing double beats not seeing one of you” is delivered with St. Vincent’s trademark insouciance. However, when you hear something that seems so effortlessly beautiful it makes you wonder where the rest of the album went wrong.
It’s still a fine record – there are too many good tracks for it to be otherwise, but crucially it’s the first St. Vincent release I’m happy to press ‘skip’ on. Perhaps Strange Mercy set the bar just a little bit too high… There’s a lot of atmosphere on these tracks, but most atmospheres aren’t conducive to life and that seems to be the key to what is missing here. With four or five songs lopped off this could have been a really strong EP, but instead we’re left with a frustrating long player. A disappointing record overall, because it’s occasionally brilliant in parts. It’ll probably be her biggest seller yet…
St. Vincent: when she’s good she’s very very good, but when she’s bad she’s rubbish. Here endeth the lesson.
24 February 2014.
Loma Vista/Republic Records.
Digital Witness (video below), Regret, Severed Crossed Fingers.