Review | St Vincent Confronts The Past on ‘Daddy’s Home’

During an age of hyper-authenticity; where artists are increasingly rewarded for showcasing themselves at their barest and most unvarnished, St ‘Annie Clark’ Vincent has made a career out of shifting between personas; inhabiting them for brief periods of time before shedding them like a second skin. ‘Daddy’s Home’ achieves an almost oxymoronic feat: Clark takes on yet another persona – this time, a 70s pinup – while simultaneously producing her most personal – and, at times, even autobiographical record.

‘Daddy’s Home’ comes after years of increasing tabloid intrusion into Clark’s life; after her relationship with Cara Delevingne attracted a newfound media spotlight, the media revealed that Clark’s father had spent much of the last decade incarcerated. ‘Daddy’s Home’ is St Vincent’s first record released in the wake of his release.

Only the album’s title track touches directly on her father’s release; a confessional, sonically subdued track, that recounts signing “autographs in the visitation room” and contains reflections like “you did some time, well I did some time too” and “we’re all born innocent, but some good saints get screwed”. Clark’s understandable expressions of sympathy for her father is one of the most human, relatable, but also brave moments on the album – considering how every statement she has made on her father’s imprisonment has attracted furious social media response.

No other track on ‘Daddy’s Home’ is as straightforwardly auto-biographical, but contrary to what some have said, the album is anything but “impersonal” or “hollow”. ‘Pay Your Way in Pain’ alludes more generally to her father’s release, but also pinpoints specific, unanchored moments of anxiety – over immense, claustrophobic production, Clark sings of being penniless in an empty store in a style reminiscent of Marina’s ‘Obsessions’.

‘Daddy’s Home’s greatest moments occurs when Clark takes ordinary moments and breaks them down in uncomfortable detail; ‘Down and Out Downtown’ chronicles the highs, lows and morning after of a night-out, while ‘At the Holiday Party’ recounts an experience when the narrator notices the truth behind a fa├žade of happiness (“I saw your face cracking / Smiles and smoke and screens”) . She wonders if the old friend has given up on her dreams (“Did those lights go out on Broadway?”)

Any discussion of ‘Daddy’s Home’ would be lacking without mention of the countless historic cultural references it contains. Across it’s 40+ minutes, the LP name drops Trans icon – and Andy Warhol fascination – Candy Darling, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone – and her civil rights anthem ‘Mississippi Goddam’ – and, Tori Amos – specifically her heart-wrenching song about rape ‘Me and a Gun’. The last three of these references all occur on one track – ‘The Melting of The Sun’. While some have pondered whether the countless cultural references reduce the emotional potency and personal nature of the album, ‘The Melting of The Sun’ provides a strong-counter argument; instead using these references as a means to reflect on the significance – and role – of Clark’s music (“But me, I never cried / To tell the truth, I lied”, “Who am I tryna be? A benzo beauty queen?”). The albums most sombre track – ‘Candy Darling’ – offers a similarly strong counter-argument; with Clark painstakingly painting an image of Darling “waving from the latest uptown train” as she departs to Heaven; it’s a subtlety subversive, and inclusive, image in a world where the LGBT+ community is often left out of positive religious narratives.

Similarly subversive is album-highlight ‘My Baby Wants a Baby’; where the narrator deals with the prospect of having a child for the first time. An inversion of the gender roles of ‘9 to 5’, Clark confesses she wants “play guitar all day” and “make all my meals in the microwave”. The track alternates between the strikingly personal and confessional (“What in the world would my baby say? / I got your eyes and your mistakes”) to the societal: “Won’t have no streets named after me / Won’t even have your sympathy / No one will scream that song I made / Won’t throw no roses on my grave / They’ll just look at me and say / “Where’s your baby?””

Elsewhere, the album is more straightforwardly personal. ‘The Laughing Man’ is an ode to a late childhood friend that recounts old memories (“Half pipes and Playstations”), but is underpinned by a darkness of it’s truth. In the first verse, Clark says she “can hear the angels weeping” and says of the chirping birds, they’re “singing like the day is perfect / But to me they sound psychotic”. Later she recounts “suicidal ideation” and contains the albums standout lyric: “left all of your guitars to me / But I can’t play”. The idea of St Vincent – widely regarded as one of the greatest living guitar players – being left too emotionally paralysed to play is a quietly heart-breaking one.

The album’s most definitive artistic statement however, is the Pink Floyd-esque ‘Live In The Dream’ – a psychedelic, six-and-a-half minute deep cut that reflects on Clark’s celebrity and personas and acts as a warning to not get lost in the grandeur and unreality of it all. As it unfolds, slowly – and increasingly, disorienting – the track becomes a world unto itself.

Ultimately, ‘Daddy’s Home’ – while hardly utilising the most unique sound – is still a definitive statement. Utterly indebted to the past, ‘Daddy’s Home’ sees St Vincent sound freer and more vulnerable than ever before – the end result being a highlight of her extensive, phenomenal discography.

Score: 8.6

Best Tracks: Pay Your Way In Pain, Live In The Dream, The Melting of The Sun, The Laughing Man, Down, My Baby Wants a Baby, At The Holiday Party, Candy Darling

Worst Tracks: they’re all good, idk…..but ‘Daddy’s Home’

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