When St. Vincent speaks, the music world listens. The musician and singer born Annie Clark has long been lauded for her boundary-pushing artistry and mastery of guitar, winning a Grammy for her last effort, 2015’s St. Vincent, and famously earning an invitation by the surviving members of Nirvana to stand in for Kurt Cobain onstage back in 2014.
But where Clark was once somewhat of an indie darling, her life has become increasingly public as of late, in part due to her former relationship with model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne. In September, the star announced her fifth studio album Masseduction, claiming it would be her most personal project yet: “If you want to know about my life, listen to this record,” she told press.
The album, which drops today (Oct. 13), lives up to Clark’s promise. Over 13 tracks, Masseduction finds Clark grappling with themes of sex and gender identity, power, consumerism and even the meaning of her own celebrity. The result, co-produced by Bleachers‘ Jack Antonoff, is at once epic (“Fear The Future”) and intimate (“Happy Birthday, Johnny”), fusing the myth of the legend-like St. Vincent with what it means to be simply Annie Clark.
Like most things Annie, though, Masseduction is hard to explain. So follow along as we run through the album track-by-track, below.
1. “Hang On Me”
Masseduction begins with the end — the end of a romance, that is. The breathy, slurring album opener is strikingly raw, ruminating on the inevitable deterioration of a love with references to severe disasters, like a plane crash and a taxicab accident. Still, none of this comes across as over-dramatic. Instead, “Hang On Me” perfectly captures the tragic, helpless doom of watching a relationship fall apart, and the strange sense of relief that comes with the final collapse.
If Masseduction deals in extremities, “Pills” is a prime example. Over its near-five minutes, the track hurtles forward at a frantic, machine-like pace, before finally whirring down to a sleepy outro for the comedown. Meanwhile, an eerie chant that reads like some kind of dystopian pharmaceutical ad runs on loop. Don’t think of “Pills” as an anti-medication screed, though — rather, Clark tells Billboard that she wrote the song based on her own experience with sleeping pills. Another interesting factoid? Delevingne, who recently debuted as a singer herself, is credited on the song under the pseudonym “Kid Monkey.”
Masseduction was a provocative choice of album name from the start. Thankfully, the title track does Clark’s concept justice, beginning with its brilliantly-worded tagline “I can’t turn off what turns me on.” The rest of the track follows the same pattern of juxtaposing pain and pleasure, garbling the lyrics “mass seduction” and “mass destruction” until the two phrases are indistinguishable. There’s something to appreciate of the track’s overt, tongue-in-cheek sexuality, but even more so of the sinister edge that looms beneath.
Clark seems to speak directly to her fans with “Sugarboy,” a simmering, glitchy melody that finds the praised singer admitting, “I am a lot like you / I am alone like you.” But the song also seems to allude to Clark’s comments on sexual fluidity. The rigid shout of “Boys! Girls!” that recurs throughout the chorus feels purposely ironic, given that the track comes from someone who once told Rolling Stone “I don’t really identify as anything.”
5. “Los Ageless”
With the oozing, heartbreak-soaked “Los Ageless,” Clark gifts us possibly one of the best lines on the album: “How can anybody have you and lose you / and not lose their mind, too?” Released as the follow-up single to “New York,” “Los Ageless” serves as its wilder West Coast sibling, addressing the same themes of heartbreak and loneliness with a smoldering new edge. It’s funny, too, with Clark turning the entertainment industry mecca that is Los Angeles into the mystical “Los Ageless” — a place where “the lost sages hang out by the bar” and “burn the pages of unwritten memoirs.”
6. “Happy Birthday, Johnny”
Clark brings back the character from St. Vincent‘s “Prince Johnny” for this intimate song, which is possibly the most revealing on the album. Throughout, the melody is laced with weirdly specific lyrical references: “Remember one Christmas / I gave you Jim Carroll,” or, “remember one summer / we walked in Times Square.” Clark even addresses struggles with her own growing celebrity, referencing appearances in magazines and on TV (“if they only knew the real version of me”). Most tellingly, Clark breaks the fourth wall, emerging not as the lauded St. Vincent but as simply Annie Clark: “Annie, how could you do this to me?”
Sandwiched between two of the album’s most heart-rending tracks is the lighter “Savior,” a wobbly, funk-tinged jam about kink and role-play that finds Clark fitting into costumes for various fetishes (a teacher’s skirt, a nurse’s outfit). The track has all of Clark’s characteristic wit — in fact, Clark’s deadpan complaints are almost laugh-out-loud funny, at one point quipping, “none of this shit fits.” Despite its, ahem, not-quite-family-friendly theme, the track features aunt and uncle Patti and Tuck Andress, who perform as the jazz duo Tuck & Patti.
8. “New York”
Nods to Manhattan run throughout Masseduction — which was recorded partly in Reservoir Studios — from the taxicab mentioned in the album opener to “Johnny”‘s reference to Times Square. But Clark takes the city head-on with “New York,” a melancholy, string-swept, lonely melody that serves as the antithesis to the brighter, upbeat “Los Ageless.” The song pulls at listeners’ heartstrings throughout with croons about loss, but nothing can prepare for the most heartbreaking, home-hitting lyric of all — “You’re the only motherfucker in this city / who can handle me.”
9. “Fear The Future”
With its apocalyptic lyrics, head-rocking drums and industrial sound, “Fear the Future” feels anthemic, and our guess is that’s exactly what Clark intended. The song — which also serves as the title of Clark’s tour — touches a nerve, at once vaguely funny (in its obvious, over-the-top drama) and haunting (in its political timing). Throughout, Clark prods for “the answer,” and though we’re never really clued in on the question, it’s instantly clear that her request is in vain.
10. “Young Lover”
“Young Lover” may be danceable and upbeat on the ears, but its lyrics reveal a darker subject: the song opens on a “young lover” passed out in the bathtub, presumably of drug overdose, while Clark pleads him or her to wake up. Here, Clark seems to almost complete the somber outro of “Pills,” following the theme of medicated existence to a bleak end.
11. “Dancing With A Ghost” / 12. “Slow Disco”
After the 46-second strings prelude “Dancing With a Ghost,” Clark leads into “Slow Disco,” a wistful, heavyhearted goodbye of sorts that itself sways like a slow dance. Her voice cracks and breaks as she sings, “slip my hand from your hand / leave you dancing with a ghost,” in a voice so delicate and haunting it sounds like she might break into tears.
13. “Smoking Section”
Clark ruminates aloud on several friends and lovers throughout Masseduction, but the artist saves “Smoking Section” for the most important relationship of all: the one with herself. Singing in a voice so low and under-her-breath that it sounds like she’s afraid of what might come out, Clark opens up about her insecurities, even referencing suicidal thoughts — “sometimes I go to the edge of the roof / and I think I’ll jump just to punish you,” she breathes. But something pulls her back from the ledge just in time, and we’re left with a mixed sense of empowerment and relief at the knowledge that even someone as lauded as Clark has demons of her own. It’s easy to find yourself humming along as Clark finishes off with a chant so defiant she sings it twelve times: “it’s not the end, it’s not the end, it’s not the end…”