Annie Clark is making a statement. If it was not clear from the eye-catching album art or all-caps titling of “MASSEDUCTION,” Annie Clark’s anxiety-wrought fifth album as St. Vincent says everything it wants to say in a taut 41 minutes.
The album’s first track, “Hang on Me,” forces the listener to do exactly that. “I know you’re probably sleeping,” St. Vincent sings in hushed tones in the opening line. The implication, of course, is that the listener is now awake — or, at least, is about to be.
From there on out, the album gradually gains a chaotic momentum. “Pills,” the second track, possesses a caustic sing-song quality. Underneath the bubblegum pop, St. Vincent croons a tirade against the gain of pleasure through artifice. She is no less subtle in the titular “Masseduction.” “Don’t turn off what turns me on,” she sings, though there is a wryness in the song that conveys an urgency to do just that.
In between the high-energy, high-impact critiques of modernity, hedonism and superficiality are small moments for deep breaths. Both “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “New York” show a fragile side that St. Vincent has not shared before, and create the sense that it’s more Clark than St. Vincent shining through. But the tenuous anxiety of the rest of the album persists in these ballads; something is bound to crack, and St. Vincent knows better than to humpty-dumpty the affair.
After a brief return to ricocheting melodies, the penultimate track, “Slow Disco,” provides one last chance for the listener to breathe before sliding into the utterly breathless “Smoking Section.” Quite unlike any other song that Clark has put out as St. Vincent, “Smoking Section” sends out one final plea to “MASSEDUCTION” listeners. “It’s not the end,” she insists as the album fades out, and it’s hard not to believe her.
With “MASSEDUCTION,” Clark is demonstrating the most varied and vocally diverse work of her career. There’s a sense of world wariness and maturity that provides a gravitas to the album, and its raison d’être is the strongest of any St. Vincent album to date. It is topical without being on the nose, fierce, fun and gorgeous.
“MASSEDUCTION” was released Oct. 13 and is available on most streaming platforms. For those who want to see the seduction live, St. Vincent will be playing a show at the House of Blues in Boston Nov. 30.