I read somewhere that an interviewer asked St. Vincent why she named her album eponymously, and she explained that MIles Davis wrote in his biography that the hardest thing in music is to sound like yourself. She feels like this album sounds like her, so she named it St. Vincent.
That’s a fine notion, and a good explanation, but it morphs into something a little more weird when you recall that St. Vincent’s real name is Annie Clark. Without pushing the point too hard, I think it could be argued that the album St. Vincent is one step away from truly personal, but it’s a damned good invention. I think it’s another instance of St. Vincent being just a touch more subtle and clever than most people recognize.
My suggestion that she’s kind of playing with us is borne out, I think, by the many references to her stage life in the album. In Severed Crossed Fingers, there’s “When your calling ain’t calling back to you/I’ll be side-stage mouthing lines for you.” In Prince Johnny, “We’re all sons of someone’s/I wanna mean more than I mean to you/I wanna mean more than I meant to him/So I pray to all to make me a real girl.” In Digital Witness she complains, “Digital witnesses/What’s the point of even sleeping/If I can’t show if you can’t see me.” I could pull more examples from the lyrics, but she explains what she’s getting at in an interview I found: “Anything that knows it is being watched changes its behaviour. We are now so accustomed to documenting ourselves and so aware that we are being watched and I think psychologically that takes a strange toll . . . ”
Enough of the talk of self-awareness – this is a great album. So great that it’s hard to choose a favorite song, or even a least-favorite song. They’re all kind of brilliant, and they cover a wide range of style from a touching soft homage to her mother (“I Prefer Your Love”) to jaunty dance tunes and ethereal sound splashes.
Robin seems pretty enthralled with this album – and, who knows, it might lead her to pick up her own guitar and imitate some of St. Vincent’s work?
I want to be cautious about tossing comparisons around, because I think it’s insulting to artists to say that they sound like someone else when they are trying to communicate in their own fashion. How many male singer/songwriters get referred to as Dylan or Young or Petty if they sound a bit nasally, even if they’re dishing out reasonably fresh treatments to different themes?
That said, I want to give you an idea of what you’ll hear when you buy this album, as you really should. “Huey Newton” shares sonic similarities with “”You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, but it’s a lot more fun. “Rattlesnake” sounds like Annie Lennox in a cathedral. “Digital Witness” has Blondie in its bloodline. But, truly, St. Vincent puts her own spin on these masters – she’s not imitating anyone, and why would she?
One other aspect of this album that I found refreshing and encouraging is her use of sexuality. The very first words you hear on the album are, “Follow the power-lines back from the road/No one around so I take off my clothes/Am I the only one in the only world?” The great thing is, though, that she doesn’t go that way with the song – the nakedness is merely a factual element of her sense of fear and vulnerability in nature. She’s not singing about being naked so that she will come off as some sexy vixen – she felt like communing with nature and got scared by the sound of a rattlesnake. You might be able to do some Freudian analysis on that song, but it is proudly NOT coquettishly sexy. It’s great to see a contemporary pop singer flat out refuse to play sexy for us. Then, she follows it up by starting the next song with “Oh, what an ordinary day/Take out the garbage, masturbate/I’m still holding for the laugh.” She’s daring us to try to box her into some sexy starlet pigeonhole, because that’s not who she is.
Annie Clark is profoundly self-aware and wildly intelligent, so, yeah, I think she’s jerking our chains when she says “I sound like myself on this record.” She knows she sounds like St. Vincent.
Next up: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, by Against Me!