The American artist, real name Annie Clark, has won two Grammy awardsINSTAGRAM / ST_VINCENT

Taylor Swift painted a bleak image of the music industry last year when she remarked that female artists must constantly reinvent themselves. Although St. Vincent is unlike many a female pop star, she is certainly a master of reinvention.

To give an example, “Los Ageless”, the high point of her 2017 album MASSEDUCTION, was a futuristic exploration of infatuation, set to heady synth and electric guitar. Flash forward four years, and “Pay Your Way in Pain”, the lead single from St Vincent’s latest project, Daddy’s Home, looks to the past for inspiration, adopting the sounds of honky-tonk piano and suggestive moans that one might hear at a sticky underground New York cabaret.

This depiction of New York as sordid but undeniably romantic underpins much of the album. “Down and Out Downtown” finds comfort in the quotidian characters of the city, threading together both the romantic image of ‘flying over the Empire state’ and the familiar ‘joker with that funny laugh’. This cityscape that she is so fond of is seemingly one of rugged individualism and deceivingly tough exteriors. “Pay Your Way in Pain” contends that pain is an essential part of making your way in life, yet the pain here is presented as alluring and sexy. Similarly, “Live in the Dream”, a six-and-a-half-minute psychedelic trip, is disorientating and crazed, yet the rich harmonies and invitations of lines like ‘welcome child’ are assuredly comforting. Encapsulated in the album is that feeling of dancing around your apartment with a glass of red wine, while still having dirt under your nails from your subway ride home. St Vincent finds beauty and community in the seediness of life.

"Pay Your Way In Pain" was the lead single from the albumYOUTUBE / ST VINCENT

Not only does she successfully recall place, but there is also an unmistakable evocation of time. Following the release of her father from prison two years ago, St. Vincent took the time to reflect on the sounds of the 1970s records that he had introduced her to. The album thus serves as a pocket time-capsule from this musical era. However, there is a thin line between respectfully taking inspiration from other genres, and creating derivative and unoriginal music, and it is often up to music critics, as the supposed gatekeepers of good taste, to draw this line.

What makes music derivative is subjective. I’m a noughties baby and while I could perhaps recognise elements of Bowie's glam-rock or Joni Mitchell's storytelling, my musical palette is simply not developed enough to pinpoint all the technicalities of the 70s, such as what made Pink Floyd or Stevie Wonder such pioneers. Perhaps what I see as impressive in this album is simply common fare for any fans from the 1970s?

“The best parts of this project are where she takes familiar concepts and farcically exposes their underbelly.”

Alternatively, avoiding derivation may require twisting old genres. The most obvious instance of this on the album comes from “My Baby Wants a Baby” which is set to the tune of “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” by Sheena Easton. Belying the optimistic melody is the existential fear of having a child for them to turn out — shock horror! — just like you, inheriting your flaws and trauma. This lyrical introspection undoubtedly provides a freshness to rehashed sounds.

The album is influenced by the sounds of the 1970sINSTAGRAM / ST_VINCENT

Yet, the factors that I think make St. Vincent’s tribute to the 70s most successful are the ready acknowledgment of her influences and her tongue-in-cheek performance. She charts the influence of Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and more in her lyrics and personal Spotify playlist of ‘Daddy’s Home Inspiration’. This is a more candid alternative to the awkwardness of watching an artist frantically deny that something’s a rip-off. There is also humour in these references, be it the delicious rhyming of ‘Nina’ with ‘subpoena’ or even the amusingly provocative Daddy’s Home title.


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This is where St Vincent’s album shines the most: at the intersection of humour, nostalgia, and grit. It is only near the end that the album peters off a bit, as the songs start sounding less visceral and the lyrics a bit on the nose. Rather, the best parts of this project are where she takes familiar concepts and farcically exposes their underbelly.

In Daddy’s Home, St. Vincent isn’t just self-indulgently proclaiming that she was ‘born in the wrong era’, instead she is interrogating Old America and how it seeps into current relationships. It’s not faultless and some of the interludes could easily have been scrapped, yet there’s something thematically fitting about an almost perfect album with just a few bits of paint left peeling off the walls.