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‘Daddy’s Home’: St Vincent’s soulful 70s masterpiece

Annie Clark, aka St Vincent’s highly anticipated sixth studio album Daddy’s Home has finally arrived, and it certainly surpasses expectations. Clark continues to experiment and reinvent herself on this album, as with 2014’s Grammy-winning St Vincent and 2017’s Masseduction. Unlike its predecessors, this record delves masterfully into the sounds of soul and funk. It begs the question: is there anything St Vincent cannot do?

It is fair to say that Daddy’s Home is a massive departure from the grinding guitars and electronica of Masseduction. Clark told The Guardian that she wanted “to play and be truly free and in the flow. […] For things to have the logic of water instead of skyscrapers.” This may explain why her signature spikey guitar riffs have been replaced by serene sitar solos.

Video: St Vincent ‘Down’ Official Music Video via YouTube

‘Daddy’s Home’ encapsulates ‘the real romance of New York’

Swaggering album opener and lead single ‘Pay Your Way in Pain’ sets the scene for what is to come. It begins with a jaunty piano tune before exploding into its catchy call-and-response chorus. The track showcases Clark’s vocal talent against the backdrop of funky basslines and sizzling synths. Here, St Vincent inhabits a bold character that mothers disapprove of (‘the mothers saw my heels and they said I wasn’t welcome’). In the accompanying music video, Annie, dressed in a green suit with wide lapels oozes confidence, as she declares ‘you know what I want’.

The same high-heeled headstrong woman is riding the morning train in the groovy ‘Down and Out Downtown’. The track fades in with the rattle of a lap steel. It has a real cinematic quality, with its namedropping of the Empire State building. Clark has named the song her personal favourite on the album and called it her attempt to ‘encapsulate the real love, the real romance of New York’ on Twitter. It could almost be the sister track to 2017’s piano lament ‘New York’. The harmonising of backing vocalists Lynne Fiddmont and Kenya Hathaway add to the appeal of this track.

Photo: St Vincent performing in January 2018 by David Lee from Redmond, WA, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The story behind ‘Daddy’s Home’

Title track ‘Daddy’s Home’ celebrates the release of Clark’s father from prison for his involvement in a stock manipulation scheme. It’s a bluesy number that would not be out of place performed in a 60s lounge. Despite its heavy subject matter, Clark keeps the track light-hearted, singing ‘I signed autographs in the visitation room’. Its an absurd image and feeds into the themes of celebrity culture present throughout the album. Charismatic Clark howls like James Brown, over saxophones and a prominent Wurlitzer, as the track crescendos. It will be interesting to see how this tune plays out when she can perform it live.

The ethereal epic ‘Live in The Dream’ is unlike any other St Vincent track. Some may consider it to be a slow burner or self-indulgent at six and a half minutes. However, as it progresses and the instrumentation builds, you realise it is truly spectacular. Once again, Clark’s soothing vocals with the added voices of Fiddmont and Hathaway create a dream-like soundscape. Having told Apple Music that this track is “completely psychedelic”, you can almost imagine Clark assembling it through yellow-tinted sunglasses.

Lyrically, it seems to grapple with the difficulties of fame as she sings ‘there’s a lot of people here who want to do you harm’. But there is a clear sense of defiance as she declares ‘The dream lives in me’. Clark also shows off her guitar-playing prowess in a soaring sitar solo around the midpoint of the song. The outro, with its steady stomp of a drumbeat transitions beautifully into ‘The Melting of the Sun’.

Video: St Vincent performing ‘The Melting of the Sun’ on Saturday Night Live via YouTube

St Vincent gets nostalgic

St Vincent debuted this track on Saturday Night Live in April. It is a more stripped back affair, with Clark’s sultry vocals against a groovy psychedelic beat reminiscent of Pink Floyd. She even name drops the group’s seminal 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon. The song is a tribute to outspoken female artists. She told Rolling Stone: “People were trying to quiet [women in the entertainment industry] when they were saying something that was righteous or true or hard to hear […] Each of them survived in an environment that was in a lot of ways hostile to them.”

1950s icon Marilyn Monroe, and renowned songstresses Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos and Nina Simone get a mention. It is an anthem of solidarity with women who’ve changed the face of popular music. In its final third as the vocals lift an octave, and Clark sings ‘Girl, you can’t give in now’, there’s a real sense of defiance and togetherness.

The second side of the album opens with the woozy whirling of ‘The Laughing Man’. St Vincent tweeted that the song is ‘an homage to a childhood friend who passed’. It is one of the gentler tracks on Daddy’s Home, with its twinkling melody and beautiful backing vocals. Clark is nostalgic, not just for the 1970s, but for the innocence of youth, of growing up and living and learning. The references to ‘grass stains and chicken dinners, Menthol mouths and secret stitches’ seem both playful and deeply personal. It’s the one-line chorus that really stands out, though: ‘If life’s a joke, then I’m dying laughing…’. It is plastered across much of the merchandise released alongside the album, suggesting the easy-going nature of the record.

Photo: St Vincent ‘Daddy’s Home’ Picture Disc LP available via https://ukstore.ilovestvincent.com/products/daddys-home-picture-disc

Fizzing funk and familial themes

Latest single ‘Down’ released mere days before the album’s release probably bears the most similarities with Masseduction. It’s a fizzing funk-inspired track with a powerful hook, infectious bassline, and prominent synths. The lyrics keep things familial, with Clark recalling her mother’s words of advice: ‘you’ve got to turn the other cheek’. In fact, the ‘Humming’ interludes, one of which precedes ‘Down’, were inspired by Clark’s ‘mom’.

The light and breezy ‘Somebody Like Me’ follows, picking up the pace with a quickly strummed guitar. Put simply, it’s a love song full of beautiful imagery of angelic figures in white. There’s an element of self-doubt in the lyrics, though, as Clark asks ‘Does it make you a genius or the fool of the week, to believe enough in somebody like me?’. It was the first song she wrote for the record and is perfectly placed with its dreamy outro melting into the next track.

Borrowing its melody from Sheena Easton’s ‘Morning Train (Nine to Five)’, ‘My Baby Wants a Baby’ is another standout. Driven by its rolling drumbeat, this slinky number involves more familial themes, with Clark pondering motherhood. She voices anxieties about becoming a parent, when she would simply prefer to ‘play guitar all day’. Building up in its final third and making use of layered backing vocals, this track would make an ideal next single for St Vincent.

Video: St Vincent ‘Pay Your Way in Pain’ Official Music Video via YouTube

A testament to St Vincent’s evolving artistry

‘…At the Holiday Party’ lilts gracefully along and is somewhat similar to the softer moments of Masseduction like ‘Happy Birthday Johnny’. Clark sings in a slightly higher register, showcasing her vocal range. She sympathises with a partygoer who is pretending to have a good time, singing ‘you can’t hide from me’ against a velvety horn section.

Closing track ‘Candy Darling’ is named after the American actor and trans woman who worked closely with Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. St Vincent described it as a ballad to say ‘thank you for being you’. At just short of two minutes, it wraps up the album beautifully, recalling the ‘bodega roses’ from earlier. Clark imagines waving goodbye to Candy at a subway station, but its like she’s saying farewell to a bygone era too.

Daddy’s Home, with its ambiguous title and stylistic overhaul, is a bold move from St Vincent. But the risk has paid off, as the album is consistent in its concept and quality. In all its glamour and grit, Daddy’s Home is a testament to St Vincent’s evolving artistry, as a singer who continues to defy genre-categorisation.

Daddy’s Home is available now to purchase in its physical format and to stream. St Vincent will perform on Later…with Jools Holland on Friday 21st May at 10pm on BBC2.

10/10

Tags: 1970's, Daddy's Home, funk, indie, Music, soul, st. vincent

Sarah Taylor

Deputy Music Editor and Music Journalist from Merseyside, living in Manchester. 90s alt-rock fan and avid gig-goer.
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