As a woman who took her stage name from a line in a Nick Cave song about “where poetry goes to die” (the hospital where Dylan Thomas breathed his last), Annie Clark, St Vincent to her fans and foes, knows a thing or two about artifice. The seven albums that make up her discography have seen her tear through alter-egos and personas at a rate that would make David Bowie wince. From the ‘asexual Pollyanna’ (her words) of her first two records, to the blazing white haired ‘near future cult leader’ that graced the cover of 2014’s St Vincent, to the ‘dominatrix in a mental institution’ of 2017’s Masseduction, Clark has a murderously tight grip on her public perception. Her new album Daddy’s Home has been billed as something a little more confessional and messier, an emotional response to her father’s recent release from a 12-year prison sentence for ‘boring white-collar crime’. But every element of this lush, paranoid record is tightly controlled.
Whilst her past few records have had strong futurist leanings — skewed pop that saw warped dance beats slashed through with wild lightning flares of robotic guitar — Daddy’s Home has swung a full musical 180. Inspired by crate digging through her father’s record collection, Daddy’s Home is a simmering vision of New York in its decaying crime-ridden glory days, painted with all the musical signifiers of the time, which in practice means the most sitar heard on a pop record since the death of George Harrison. Whilst the previous two records have established Clark as one of the most electric and borderline savage guitar players of her generation, Daddy’s Home has little time for frenzy, unfurling a deceptively languid tone. However, a hidden unease swivels and bops in the warm spaces of the record. There is an edginess to Daddy’s Home that spikes at you to stop you from getting too comfortable.
Opening track “Pay Your Way In Pain” is the only song that has a direct line back to her more recent work, with a familiar spastic electronic beat bouncing behind Clark’s neurotic strut. She snarls how “the mothers saw my heels and they said I wasn’t welcome”, painting a portrait of a woman on the edge in a New York where you can practically smell the tarmac melt in the heat. Backed with explosive punch-drunk yelps of “pain”, the track is woozy and tense yet is almost obscenely danceable. That’s what makes the following track, “Down and Out in Downtown” such a shock, as Clark effortlessly melts into spiked Bill Withers cool. Whether on the Pink Floyd inflected dreaminess of “Live in the Dream”, or the cracked Stevie Wonder worship in the barbed attack fantasy of “Down”, Clark takes the well-worn sounds of the seventies and perverts them into something subtly unfamiliar and at times almost eerie.
That’s not to say that Daddy’s Home is some experimental nightmare; as an album it’s as dripping in narcotized cool as Clark’s “benzo beauty queen” persona. Daddy’s Home might not have the same immediacy of some of St Vincent’s best singles but once its smoky sultry grooves get their grip on you, you’ll find yourself coming back over and over again.