St. Vincent has come a long way from the days she toured with Sufjan Steven’s band. From the charming yet somewhat predictable “Marry Me” (2007) to the amusingly hectic “St. Vincent” (2014), her career has been on an upward trajectory since the beginning, each release gaining more critical and commercial attention. Many even dubbed “St. Vincent” to be the artist’s magnum opus, implying she would never be able to top her self-titled release. The release of “MASSEDUCTION” (2017), St. Vincent’s new album after a three-year break, proves the naysayers wrong. The album is truly a masterpiece, as it challenges the definition of pop music by displaying a complexity rarely found in the genre. The album is not only St. Vincent’s most accessible effort, but also her greatest.
“MASSEDUCTION” opens with “Hang on Me,” a string-heavy breakup song with heartrending lyrics. Strategically, it is a great opener, because it hints at the growth in St. Vincent’s career. Compared to her earlier songs, “Hang on Me” is notably more mature and personal. It is a beautiful song and foreshadows the calm found in the second half of the album.
The first act of second track “Pills” is more in line with St. Vincent’s earlier work. The beat, the brass and the guitar riffs signal an evident mood change. The lyrics “Pills to wake, pills to sleep / Pills, pills, pills every day of the week” sung by St. Vincent’s ex-girlfriend Cara Delevigne, are consciously manic, which reminds listeners of the sense of orderly chaos found in “St Vincent.” The song’s second act marks a 180-degree shift in tone with ’60s-inspired music yet an anti-’60s sentiment with lyrics “Come all you villains, come one and all / Come all you killers, come join the war.” The song is powerful because it is able to transform so effortlessly.
Of all the songs featured on the album, the title track “MASSEDUCTION” is arguably the catchiest with the line “I can’t turn off what turns me on.” St. Vincent cleverly replaces “MASSEDUCTION” with “mass destruction” in the chorus, which provides an outline of the central theme of the album. It seems that in its entirety, “MASSEDUCTION” deals with desires that need to be escaped from, whether that desire is towards a person or a city.
The first two singles from the album, “New York” and “Los Ageless,” explore such desire. “New York” is about nostalgia for a city that once belonged to St. Vincent and her friends. In many ways, it’s a eulogy dedicated to the city once loved by the singer. Contrasting starkly with “New York,” “Los Ageless” is loud and dynamic, and it’s about the newfound love toward the similarly named city. However, the love expressed quickly turns into a source of confusion and self-doubt. In the end, St. Vincent sings the line “I guess that’s just me, honey, I guess that’s how I’m built / I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament” over and over, highlighting the shortcomings of her desire.
Another highlight is the rock opera-inspired “Sugarboy.” The track is notable for the repeating chants of “boys” and “girls,” which allude to St. Vincent’s queerness. In a recent profile in the New Yorker, the artist replied to a question about her sexuality by stating that “the goal is to be free of heteronormativity. I’m queer, but queer more as an outlook.”
The penultimate track “Slow Disco,” and its haunting intro “Dancing With a Ghost,” find the singer finally letting go of her desires. Co-written by ex-The Civil Wars member Joy Williams, the song’s lyrics are both confessional (“I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave”) and highly visual (“Slip my hand from your hand / Leave you dancin’ with a ghost”). It is most certainly a deserving finish to the album.
Overall, “MASSEDUCTION” is a hit that borrows from pop music conventions to create something exciting and unique. At times, it is a little too messy, loud or sentimental. Yet all these are conscious choices made to heighten the central theme of the album and to offer something cohesive in the end. It’s the contradictions and contrasts found in “MASSEDUCTION” that make the album a major success and St. Vincent a genius.