I truly cannot stand Pay Your Way In Pain, the first track on St.Vincent's latest album, Daddy's Home, just out. It's pushy, vulgar, lurid, in your face stuff of the worst imaginable stripe. It almost made me give up on the record straight off but I kept listening. This is St. Vincent after all. She, it is generally accepted, is a big deal.
The record improved from Pay Your Way In Pain, though it could hardly fail to (it's by far the worst thing on here), without ever making me fall under its spell. I've tried with St. Vincent, I really have. Over several years and several albums. She's slick and sleek, but always seems to be an artist that specialises in state of the art, glossy surfaces and I find it easier to admire than to love her.
The sleeve of Daddy's Home, finds her sporting a new blond crop that I assume is a wig, but can't be sure. This is the thing with St. Vincent for me. She seems to don a lot of costumes. Much in the way that Bowie and Byrne used to back in the day. In many ways she's a modern equivalent of that approach. Sufjan and Perfume Genius are a couple of others I'd put in a similar category. But both engage to a far greater degree.
This is, after all, Bowie and Byrne we're talking about here, and if St. V sets the bar so high for herself then she should be judged on her own terms. There are some songs here that work for me, better than others. Live in the Dream, first and foremost, throws plenty of art moves but doesn't forget to make the emotional investment and I found it rather moving.
Serious subject matter is engaged with, most notably issues of domestic violence. There is definite depth here and many will relate to it to a much greater degree than I have. But I find myself fended off by its glossy surfaces and lack of warmth. It's all rather studied for my tastes.
This is very knowing music. It projects, and is very impressive in many respects. St.Vincent is a fully formed artist by now and she doesn't operate in anyone else's shadow, despite her nods to Bowie, Byrne and Prince. In many ways this is a very 2021 record and I imagine it will be lauded as such by critics at the end of the year. But it doesn't really push my buttons.
For St. Vincent seems first and foremost to deal in artifice and I find that approach difficult to invest in emotionally. I find it difficult to care for music that seems not for the most part to want to care too much itself. Daddy's Home is a highly polished album with several oustanding moments. But it doesn't sound like one to turn to if you're in need of a heart to heart.