If pop sensations like Miley Cyrus, Madonna, and more recently Billie Eilish are the mothers of mainstream creative reinvention, then St. Vincent is their indie equivalent. An unfair statement perhaps, since the genre-bending but always guitar-heavy music of Annie Clark has broken far more into the mainstream than many of her contemporaries. But the point is, where reinvention in the world of pop music may lie in an artist’s fleeting interest in a particular genre, artistic movement, or trend, for Clark it is more a matter of choosing a new genre, aesthetic and tone that match a new aspect of her life she wishes to bare all. Clark is no stranger to changing it up based on those aforementioned interests, but what she succeeds at so remarkably with new album Daddy’s Home, even more so than previous LP MASSEDUCTION, is pinpointing the exact sonic mood that matches the story she wants to tell, while creating an end product so distinct from her previous work yet at the same time no less dynamic or personal.
With the utter chaos of the last year and a half, 2021 seems so far removed from even the last half decade, let alone any nostalgia an older millennial might have for pop culture before the 1990s. Often for younger generations all we know of the decades before our time is a miasma of pop culture references that largely stem from a very specific aesthetic, as well as the popular music of the time, and often it might all blend together. With that in mind, some might want to make comparisons of Daddy’s Home to the works of Lana Del Rey. But before you get the pitchforks out; we couldn’t agree less with this notion.
On the very surface, the 1970’s New York-bathed imagery of Daddy’s Home in some ways acts as a counterpart to the 50s west-coast Americana that Del Rey projects on virtually every release. But where Lana Del Rey often trips walking the line between knowingly camp and a big old cringefest with her schtick (personally I can’t help but be over it, especially with her woefully out of touch antics as of late), Annie Clark manages to keep her messaging succinct and poignant, yet wonderfully abstract in places. The bled-together nostalgia is where any comparisons end. Besides, Clark’s been around a fair bit longer than Lana for people to make any of that sort of comparison.
Daddy’s Home was directly inspired by not only Clark’s father’s release from prison in 2019 (hence the title), but also his extensive record collection. Touching predominantly on the funk of greats like Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Parliament-Funkadelic, a host of soul groups, and even twinges of Pink Floyd, Daddy’s Home adeptly makes its inspirations clear. From the track names alone, you know exactly what to expect at least thematically. Titles like “Down And Out Downtown” and “… At the Holiday Party” evoke an incredibly specific set of images in the context of 1970s New York. Think musty jazz clubs and stereotypical images of pilled-out housewives in fur coats.
Yet, the general aura of the album could not be further from its inspiration, and it’s that exaggeration wherein the true nature lies. Instead of dedicated homages, every track feels more like a parody than a tribute, with an undercurrent of discomfort and pain running through every lyric. Magnifying this intent are all the subtly peppered in elements completely distinct from 70’s funk and jazz, like a plucked acoustic guitar and 911-operator sample on “The Laughing Man” or slight electronic beats of “Down.” The almost comedic tone of the currently released music videos only exacerbate this feeling. Songs sound plastic in the most robust way possible, managing to use the backdrop of 1970s New York to evoke the exact story of domestic anguish she wishes to illustrate. And that’s where that reinvention shows itself. Clark hasn’t crafted a new persona around a genre. Rather, she’s expertly evoked her own twisted version of an era as a means to share a very specific portion of her life, as well as her commentary on the modern world around her. She’s twisted the period to her own whim without disrespecting the source.
This feeling of parody is present throughout, as is Clark’s trademark guitar work. But it’s on few key tracks that the message is particularly palpable. On opener and lead single “Pay Your Way in Pain,” St. Vincent sets the tone wonderfully with a jazzy piano sting accompanied by some cheeky, almost sex-like vocalizations, all before exploding into that paradoxically hollow/deep funk that characterizes the whole LP. This track, along with the Pink Floyd-esque “Live in the Dream,” single “Melting of the Sun” and surprisingly catchy “…At the Holiday Party” all paint an uncomfortably familiar picture for many American even today: one of a rocky domestic life rife with scenarios impossible to see in pure black and white. Meanwhile the cutting “My Baby Wants a Baby” manages to sound like a woman of the time while echoing a common sentiment of many current-day women with the simple line “They’ll just look at me and say / where’s your baby?”
Anyone expecting MASSEDUCTION 2.0 certainly was not familiar enough with St. Vincent and her wildly creative talent to be ready for Daddy’s Home. Its deeply personal inspirations and affected delivery may seem like a paradox, but in reality Clark has managed to create a vision on Daddy’s Home that is deeply autobiographical while at the same time exaggerated. It haunts and gives, mocks and respects, but most of all it tells a story without bathing in complex symbolism, only setting. It’s nothing like what’s come before, and certainly will stand on its own years down the line in Annie Clark’s discography. Though her self-titled album may always be known as her commercial breakthrough, Actor her most avant garde, Strange Mercy her most isolating, and MASSEDUCTION her most downright catchy, perhaps Daddy’s Home will always remain her most poignant.