Essential New Music: St. Vincent’s “MASSEDUCTION”

MASSEDUCTION earns its orange. St. Vincent’s biggest, boldest, best album isn’t gonna shill for your attention. It’s just going to command it. Maybe you weren’t looking for Annie Clark to make the 21st-century lustchild of Ray Of Light and Pretty Hate Machine (with a twist of Choirgirl Hotel—but with stronger songwriting than any of them)—but who the hell else was gonna do it for us? Shirley Manson? Taylor Swift? Ariana Grande? Not to say there’s anything particularly “retro” going on here—she’s essentially continuing her trajectory of incrementally expanding ambition, scope, aesthetic rigor, heart-wrenching ballads and nasty tech-funk—but the ’90s got some things really right, like how to be both a pop star and an art star, no contradictions necessary. Had this album dropped in 1997, it would have been a massive cultural touchstone. Nowadays? Well, that’s on you. Arriving, coincidentally, as a cascade of sex-abuse revelations threatens to upend the entertainment-industrial vortex, Clark’s wickedly sharp, vulnerable dissections of sex and loneliness, intimacy and power, feel more necessary than ever. As for that cover art—which is maybe shilling for attention just a tiny bit—the butt’s almost beside the point: What we’re witnessing is a woman bowing down to nothing but her own muse.

—K. Ross Hoffman