Saturday, April 24, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1468: St.Vincent

Welcome back, gentle readers! A reminder to please continue to do your part to bend the pandemic curve, because I am way past done with drinking and dining outside.

Disc 1468 is…. Marry Me

Artist: St. Vincent

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover?  St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) stares straight at us. Is she inviting us to listen to her record, or daring us?

How I Came To Know It: I didn’t initially love this record, but later St. Vincent albums were so good, I gave her earlier work a second chance. I found it better than I remembered and so here we are.

How It Stacks Up: I plan to buy St. Vincent’s new album “Daddy’s Home” when it comes out in mid-May, but as of right now I have a total of six of her records. Of those six, I put “Marry Me” in at…#6. Something has to be last.

Ratings: 3 stars

St. Vincent has gotten progressively better on every record she’s released. Given this, it shouldn’t surprise that her first record, “Marry Me,” isn’t 100% there for me. That said, even a lesser St. Vincent album still has a lot to offer.

St. Vincent changes up her sound a lot from record to record, challenging her fans to follow where she leads. Most records will include a combination of rock guitar, pop hooks, artful noise, and jazz, in different measures depending on where she’s at in her career. Pile it all together and you get the kind of music that gives Windows Media Player an aneurism in setting the genre column. In these moments, it usually goes with one of the big three “what the hell does that mean?” designations: “indie”, “alternative” or my personal favourite “miscellaneous”. For “Marry Me” it went for “alternative”. Sure.

In this case, “alternative” means a heavier focus on the art of noise elements and a larger dose of jazz in both the arrangements and the melodic structures. Vocally, this draws out some amazing performances from Clark, who’s singing is sometimes not given the attention it deserves, simply because critics focus heavily on just how innovative the music is.

On “Marry Me” her vocals are as good as anywhere in her career, with a rich, pure tone that stays full through her entire register. The jazz qualities on the record, bring out her inner cabaret singer as well, and at various moments it feels like she channels Billie Holiday, Vera Lynn and even Liza Minelli. For a record that is so thoroughly modern, Clark sings with a timeless and classic grace.

Armed with this voice, she sets to pulling disparate sounds together to make a kind of music few could pull off. “The Apocalypse Song” is a strong example, featuring a sublime vocal, matched with violin bits that feel pulled out of an old classical tune, guitars holding down the rhythm and a bridge composed largely of syncopated hand claps and guitar growls that are so reverbed out they sound like feedback. This shit should not work, but it does.

What holds the record back is nothing more than my long-standing animus to jazz. Mid-song shifts within the structure of “Landmines” left me wishing she’d stick with one, or even two musical notions instead of cramming three or four into a song. It is hard to criticize, since it is also what makes St. Vincent great, but from time to time it goes places I don’t want to follow.

Similarly, the meandering piano on “We Put a Pearl in the Ground” is the wrong side of that classic sound. This tune feels at home as the soundtrack of a forlorn “found love by the lakeside but then lost it” seventies romantic tear-jerker. I’m more of a romantic comedy kind of guy.

For the most part, though, I am happy to have St. Vincent walk me through these complex compositions. On “Your Lips Are Red” she mixes some of the best guitar ever into an overblown Queen-esque number, and then sneaks some jazz piano in, but I loved every minute of it.

Many St. Vincent fans will no doubt claim “Marry Me” is her best record. While those fans are wrong, there is more than enough good stuff on the record that they don’t need to be embarrassed of their opinion.

Best tracks: Now Now, Your Lips Are Red, Marry Me, The Apocalypse Song

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