2018, Music

MassEducation (2018) by St. Vincent

What does it say about St. Vincent that her music can be so easily converted from elaborately arranged, dancy contemporary pop (with bits of rock music thrown in) to piano music? To me, it suggests that she is pretty good at writing songs, but it also makes me further long for the early years, when production and perfection weren’t the goal.

I remember maybe two songs on MASSEDUCTION that sounded like they would work on piano. It’s a testament to Clark’s songs and Bartlett’s playing that these songs, written as contemporary pop, work as well as they do as voice and piano pieces. I do think the album shows off Clark’s talent as a songwriter and her willingness to take risks that might not make a ton of sense commercially or even critically. After all, Clark is a guitarist – one hell of a guitarist – and not a pianist. Though she’s a great singer, she arguably gained fame in part due to her ability to play guitar better than a lot of people men thought someone who sounded like her should.

I can’t say I loved the lyrics on MASSEDUCTION and these arrangements mean that you can’t escape the lyrics. That to me is the first drawback of the record.

But really, the big one for me is that it tells me that Clark is fully capable of making music differently than the way she currently makes music. I knew that already, of course, but this reminds me of it. I don’t particularly like her sound, it’s just not my thing. And this album makes that sound seem a bit like a set of clothes that she has put on because it works for her, whether artistically, commercially, or both.

I also think this whole idea works better with new songs, or very old songs, not recent songs. Making this album from the songs from the previous album feels far less risky than doing it with new songs or by taking songs she wrote in the aughts and doing it with them.

That being said, there’s no denying this works. And it works because Clark’s songs work in spite of the different arrangements, meaning they transcend those arrangements, and because Clark and Bartlett do such a good job performing the songs.


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