In The Church Of 'St. Vincent'

by Jeva Lange

Annie Clark’s fourth record as St. Vincent, out February 25, has elevated some eyebrows because it is self-titled (“underwhelming,” one journalist called the decision). Self-titled albums tend to be statements: either This is the sound of St. Vincent or I am redefining myself, and this is the NEW sound of St. Vincent. Thankfully, neither of those items seem to be on Clark’s agenda here. Rather, the title St. Vincent is just one of many explorations of worship on the record, a kind of self-aware acknowledgement of Clark’s new fan base. St. Vincent’s cover art, depicting Annie Clark on a throne, sitting regally “above” the viewer, furthers this concept. She is in charge here and we are her faithful followers.

This imagery of worship and idolization encompasses the entire album. On lead track, “Rattlesnake,” which is allegedly a true story, Clark constructs the image of a lone naked woman (“the only one in the world”) pursued by snakes. Although it might be inadvertent — the desert is no paradise, and Adam is nowhere to be found — the parallels to Genesis stand. It would be a mistake to ignore them, especially on an album ripe to bursting with religious imagery.

St. Vincent is interested in digital worship and modern celebrity, and uses the language of religion to explore the concept. The voyeurism in the track “Birth in Reverse” (“What I saw through the blinds — “) and lyrics in “Digital Witness” (“People turn the TV on, it looks just like a window… If I can’t show it, you can’t see me”) pull the album out of the past and modernize it, with Clark herself as the centerpiece. But St. Vincent isn’t making herself out to be a goddess; she’s the golden calf — the false idol we’ve chosen ourselves.

The terms and conditions of this relationship are unspecific, however: “Prostrate on my carpet,” Clark tells Prince Johnny in his song. And later, “I saw you pray to all, to make you a real boy.” The choir backing Clark furthers the sense that we are listening to the words of a deity, but “God,” or another supreme being, is absent. The prince is praying to an undefined “all.”

And while “Prince Johnny” is the kind of dreamy track we are used to from Clark, St. Vincent as a whole is a grittier, darker, “rockier” album than any of her music has been before. It is also her first record on a major label, but there is the sense throughout that Clark is in complete creative control. That said, St. Vincent is more accessible than her previous releases when it comes to the bonkers soundscapes Clark has worked with previously — it’s the kind of record you’d recommend to a less-adventurous friend who you want to bully into going to the St. Vincent concert with you.

St. Vincent is a spectacular thing. If this is what the bigger, more popular, mainstream Annie Clark is going to sound like, then great. St. Vincent is not only successful, it’s a borderline-brilliant album, one with which Clark might just convert a whole new group of fans.