By Hallie S.
At the end of Strange Mercy, Annie Clark’s last release as St. Vincent, we find our heroine about to embark on a cathartic cross-country adventure. Her bags are packed and her mind is made up: she’s ready to abandon her hectic New York life and hide out in Seattle for awhile. She’s “living in fear,” she says – but perhaps the only thing more terrifying than the world she’s leaving behind is the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Three years and two tours later, Clark sounds considerably more emboldened. On “Rattlesnake,” St. Vincent’s nervy opening track, she wanders naked through a West Texas desert, only to discover that she isn’t alone. She exchanges thoughts with Black Panther Huey Newton in her Helsinki hotel room and delivers some provocative social media criticism. (“If I can’t show it, you can’t see me / What’s the point in doing anything?” she asks on “Digital Witness.”) Previously, Clark starred in dark music videos that showed her getting kidnapped by motherless children and literally cracking under pressure at a museum exhibit; with her latest release, she seems to have ascended to cult-leader status.
Of course, St. Vincent wouldn’t be a St. Vincent album without vulnerable moments. The highest of highlights is “Prince Johnny,” a character study of a self-destructive young man that is as compassionate as it is critical. It’s the most emotionally-charged track on the album, with jarring guitar crunches and plaintive cries of “I wanna mean more than I mean to you,” though it falls a bit short of some of Clark’s earlier material. (“If I ever meet that dirty policeman who roughed you up,” from Strange Mercy’s title track, remains the most unsettling lyric she’s penned.) St. Vincent doesn’t do a lot to challenge listeners’ expectations, but its candid and earnest observations betray an element of risk, of fearlessness. Clark always did have a knack with the danger.