22 May 2021 (released)
22 May 2021
If one were to pick out a notable feature in the Millenial aesthetic palette, it would undoubtedly be that generation’s obsession with nostalgia. In particular, the kind of nostalgia that comes ready-made and pre-packaged. Few things appear more authentic and alluring than ersatz truths and mock authenticity for the generation that came of age alongside the virtual reality provided by the internet. All one has to do is spend a few minutes on social media to realize how readily the impulse to appear or seem eclipses any preference for genuineness and transparency. That being the case, it’s no surprise that this propensity for creating synthetic versions of the human experience would bleed into the realm of music. For the last decade, we’ve witnessed multiple careers be made strictly on an artist’s ability to peddle an easily consumable and approachable brand of nostalgia. This trend typically coincided with visual, aesthetic, and production preferences that favored arbitrary and specific mid-to-late twentieth-century iconography. Thus we find ourselves at a moment when what’s often collectively considered fresh and novel usually entails the quality of facsimile.
Into this all-too-familiar plastic milieu, enter Annie Clark, better known by her stage monicker St. Vincent. Clark’s latest album, Daddy’s Home, was released last Friday by Loma Vista Recordings. Produced by the seemingly omnipresent Jack Antonoff, Daddy’s Home is the kind of album that is essentially all that it isn’t. Clocking in at forty-five-minutes, the record is an astutely crafted homage to the sort of vanity and self-absorption that have long been mainstays in the music industry. A glib and trite tale that would bore even the most obsessive Freudians out there, Daddy’s Home follows a loosely threaded story of a woman’s abandonment by her father after the latter is sent to prison during her childhood. Partially based on Clark’s personal account (her father was arrested when she was a child and sentenced to twelve years behind bars for committing stock fraud), the two-dimensional vignettes that comprise the record fail superbly and from the get-go at establishing any relevance whatsoever. We never really know why we should care about a vaguely-sketched white-collar criminal or the entitled and privileged daughter he leaves behind to wander through a life where her only achievements seem to be the fulfillment of every imaginable cliche.
So late in the game- and so early in this new decade- it’s hard to fathom that Clark and Antonoff would genuinely intend to pass this poor attempt at songwriting off as a biting cultural or artistic statement. Even in the post-ironic age, that’s just asking too much. To add insult to injury, on a purely musical level, the record is a pretentious collection of 1970’s-pastiche. What perhaps might have been an ambitious ode to the sultry sounds of the Me Decade, instead comes off as a cheap imitation of a best-of collection peddled on late-night infomercials but without any of the cachets derived from authenticity. Try as she may to emulate the grandiose glam of David Bowie, the social commentary of Gil Heron-Scott, or the progressive and jazzy sounds of Steely Dan or Pink Floyd, time and time again, Clark ends up coming up short. To be fair, though, the production is predictably and remarkably top-notch. And there are spare moments of musical aptitude and panache, most notably in the psychedelic ballad “Live in the Dream” or in the Sheena Easton-inspired “My Baby Wants a Baby.”
But in the end, the album just can’t be what it simply isn’t. And as the layers of affectation come down one by one after each successive listen, the empty-shelled simulacrum that’s Daddy’s Home reveals itself at its most genuinely artificial. If one were to follow Clark’s example, as evidenced in her character’s actions, and create lousy excuses for the album’s lack of creativity and vision, then one would be right to assume that this is just a product of an unimaginative era in which the aversion to risk stands as a cultural cornerstone. But, on the other hand, if one were to judge Clark and Antanoff as the seasoned and celebrated artists they are, a noticeable lack of imagination and a seeming fear of risk would easily explain the album’s tepid and listless quality. Either way, we end up in the presence of an old and naked empress.