Ever adverse to bluntness, the fact that St. Vincent decided to mine her family history at all is striking. It should be no surprise, then, that in her latest outing, Daddy’s Home (★★★☆☆), Annie Clark unpacks the drama of her father’s time in prison through a filter of her own half-imaginary version of New York City in the 1970s, making for an album that is every bit as romantically gritty as its setting.
Notwithstanding Jack Antonoff’s returning co-producer credit, Daddy’s Home has a sound that is so markedly different from her last album that she sounds almost reinvented. Seeking to evoke the funk of the early ’70s and create something that is “all about groove, feel and performance,” Clark and Antonoff have come up with an album that is markedly looser and less overtly eccentric than the tightly-wound and finely-calibrated Masseducation.
Clark makes the most of her sepia-tinted foray into the sounds of the decade, with funky guitars and barroom piano and even Clark on the sitar. Synths suggestive of both the ’70s and ’80s conjure a vaguely retro pop sensibility. Antonoff’s co-written tracks, including the quirky title track and the synthy barn-burner “Down” end up nodding towards her previous work just enough that they sound a little out of place. The songs that credit only Clark, including the haunting love song to a Warhol superstar, “Candy Darling,” the sprawling “Live in the Dream,” and her arresting ballad, “The Melting of the Sun,” seem to come closer to capturing the dirty, melancholy mood of her imaginary New York, although they lack some of the swagger that makes the album so much fun to listen to.
Daddy’s Home is not Clark’s first artistic attempt to sort through the baggage of her father’s 12-year imprisonment and the mark it left on her family, but it is the first to deal with it in such straightforward terms. Much has been made about the circumstances of how exactly her father ended up in prison for the unsympathetic, unsexy crime of mortgage securities fraud, but Clark knowingly skirts around her father as a subject, preferring instead to explore the hole his departure left in her family’s life through a healthy layer of wryness and irony.
Of the ripples that departure left, none are explored with more urgency than the angst around parenthood that she explores in “My Baby Wants a Baby,” one of the album’s most compelling tracks. She turns an unsparingly critical light on herself, ruminating on her own selfishness and intergenerational scars, which finally land like a brick with the lines, “What in the world would my baby say? I got your eyes and your mistakes.”
Trading detached eccentricity for vulnerability wrapped in the soft shimmer of winking faux-nostalgia was always going to be a risk for St. Vincent, but despite some unevenness and a few hiccups she has pulled it off, making an album that manages to be as fun as it is complex and intricate. Daddy’s Home is by no means her strongest album, but it is buoyed by a strong, cohesive sound and a healthy sense of irony that make for a compelling detour from both the self-lacerating baroque pop of her early years and the artsy frenzy of her more recent work.
Daddy’s Home is available for purchase and streaming starting Friday, May 14.
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