St Vincent — Annie Clark, a 38-year-old singer-guitarist of prodigious gifts — spends a lot of time confounding people. She confounds them with stage shows that are less gig than theatre, ostentatiously choreographed and fabulously provocative (though not in any crude sense). She confounds them with an image that morphs from album to album (for her sixth, Daddy’s Home, she has adopted the dissolute Cassavetes-heroine look). She confounds them by, in a puritan age, placing sex squarely within her work, though usually in a plausibly deniable way (the title Daddy’s Home refers to her father’s release in 2019 from prison after serving nine years for his part in a stock-manipulation scheme. She says of the title: ‘It’s pervy’). She confounds them by being private and elusive, by refusing to be pinned down on her sexuality, while also entering into relationships with celebrity A-listers Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart.
And she confounds with her music, too, which shifts shape from record to record. One of the great pop and rock guitarists of her generation, she now rations her solos pretty strictly, but when they hit, they hit hard (on Daddy’s Home, ‘Live in the Dream’ features the best David Gilmour solo ever played by someone other than David Gilmour).
The new album is, she says, modelled on the records of the early 1970s, but the most blatant musical reference on Daddy’s Home isn’t Pink Floyd or Steely Dan or any of the names Clark has been dropping in interviews. It is, confoundingly, Sheena Easton, whose first single, ‘9 to 5’, supplies the melody for ‘My Baby Wants a Baby’, about a woman who is very much not the happy homemaker of the Easton song. Oooh, clever reversal. Except it’s not. It was all an accident.
‘I wrote the song, and for 12 to 24 hours I was walking around thinking: “My God, I’ve just written the best melody of all time.”