St. Vincent’s attempt at a classic rock recalibration is more tone-deaf than innovative.
The teaser trailer that dropped on March 2 showed a collection of wavering handheld shots, depicting a harried Annie Clark in a blond wig and trench coat running the green-tinted halls of an aged Manhattan apartment building, frantically searching for a ringing phone. Upon locating and answering said phone, the screen cut to black, offering up the title Daddy’s Home and a phone number (1-833-77-DADDY, naturally). These images seemed to synthesize the vibe of the fabled exploitation films screened in formerly grungy Times Square, with the danger and provocation of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, and maybe a bit of Chantal Akerman’s Hotel Monterrey if you wish to be generous. When one dialed the aforementioned DADDY number, they were greeted by a sampling of soon-to-be-single “Pay Your Way in Pain” accompanied with a cinematic voice recording that announced “She’s back, in a new role like you’ve never seen her before.”
And indeed, the arrival of Daddy’s Home marks another recalibration of Annie Clark’s St. Vincent persona, though more dramatically (and goofily) than she’s previously allowed for. The sixth solo album under the St. Vincent moniker, Daddy’s Home finds Clark reteaming with the ever game Jack Antonoff (co-producing and assisting with analog synths and other such instrumentation), doing a superficial u-turn away from the cleaner, faux-futuristic pop music of 2017’s Masseduction on which they first collaborated. Daddy’s Home has them taking it back to the New York City of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, or else the New York City of the late ‘60/early ‘70s as it lives on in media depictions and the ever malleable cultural memory. St. Vincent’s newest role, it would seem, is a person who really likes classic rock, a persona the chameleonic art rocker inhabits with little friction, composing a collection of 14 expensive-sounding songs (including three “Humming Interlude”s) that cover a range of influences stretching from The Beatles to David Bowie.
There’s a point at which listing off similar-sounding musical acts stops being a useful means of assessing an artist, but to be clear, Daddy’s Home is an album of self-conscious pastiche, one that indulges interpolation to recall Bowie’s Young Americans (the aforementioned “Pay Your Way in Pain” a reworking of that album’s “Fame”) and Sheena Easton’s “9 to 5” (the cutesy “My Baby Wants a Baby”), among others. This is in part a reference to the traditions of funk and soul music that supposedly inspired the album’s aesthetic (music press made a fuss about Clark listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder and Sly & The Family Stone in the lead up to recordings), but the way in which it’s employed on Daddy’s Home only serves to affirm this as more marketing than anything else, George Harrison’s influence weighted much more heavily than Sly Stone’s (GH’s favored brand of electric sitar serves as the backbone for several of these songs).
Daddy’s Home’s relationship with Black artistry provides an uncomfortable backdrop to what could have been a decent enough selection of contemporized psychedelia (“Living in the Dream” and “The Melting of the Sun” stand out as welcome, back-to-back Pink Floyd tributes), perhaps not outright damning, but curiously invited by the singer in both the marketing and in her (knowingly?) provocative choice to appropriate Bowie’s own appropriation of soul music, evoking the album of his with the most fraught legacy (the gesturing to this era of Lou Reed’s career also inevitably gets one thinking). There’s also the choice to introduce backing vocalists into the mix, specifically on the album’s title track, which directly addresses the narrative that informs the album’s arc. As Clark sings over a melody she describes as “a slow reggae” (hmm) about her father’s release from white-collar prison (which, of course, concurs with her own maturation and ascension into the role of “Daddy”), her usual sing-songy vocals are adorned by the combined voices of Lynne Fiddmont-Lindsey and Kenya Hathaway, Black backing vocalists here to accentuate and authenticate (Lou Reed again coming back to mind).
This obliviousness extends into the album’s closing number (besides the final “Humming Interlude”), “Candy Darling,” an ostensible ode to the Warhol Factory star from whom Clark’s blond wig look was pilfered. One of the first, very visible, out trans celebrities, Darling’s memory and the iconography around her has long been misappropriated and disrespected, with Clark’s contribution proving no different. An otherwise pretty, wistful ballad recalling those of The Velvet Underground (whose own ode to Darling, “Candy Says,” is more likely what St. Vincent is actually responding to here), “Candy Darling” is more interested in ways the Women in Revolt star’s name can be toyed with lyrically, and how she straddled the line between high and low art (symbolized by “bodega roses,” Clark’s attempts to assure you she’s a true New Yorker getting increasingly desperate). It’s an oblivious misuse of Darling’s legacy, one indicative of the careless way Clark and Antonoff have borrowed and stitched together the reference points that constitute Daddy’s Home. The album never amounts to more than the sum of these parts, and when taken individually, they paint a dubious picture of Clark’s cultural astuteness. The mystique and playfulness that once made St. Vincent such a captivating pop act isn’t apparent on Daddy’s Home, replaced by a crass desire to become, well… Daddy. The apostrophe in the album’s title is meant to most immediately indicate a contraction, sure, but why not read it as possessive? For Annie Clark, there’s no particular problem with the home in question; it’s actually that she has yet to be recognized as its rightful patriarch.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2021 | Part 2.