Album Review by Rebekah Hoffer
Annie Clark first joined the music scene as part of The Polyphonic Spree, a choral pop rock band, before touring with Sufjan Stevens and eventually inventing her current identity as St. Vincent in 2006. Since then, her lush voice, instrumental prowess, and talent for transforming into new characters have won her two Grammys and a cult following to boot. Daddy’s Home, released in May 2021, is a departure from the sleek electro-pop sound of previous albums like Masseduction—rather than looking to the future, Daddy’s Home goes back in time. This fresh batch of fourteen songs is brimming with funky retro flair, taking inspiration from all sorts of 70s stars. Posters promoting the album declared that it’s filled with “Warm wurlitzers and wit, glistening guitars and grit, with sleaze and style for days.”
As with every album St. Vincent comes up with, Daddy’s Home is rooted in a unique persona and setting—in this case, a “benzo beauty queen” in 1970s downtown New York. This version of St. Vincent is wandering bleary-eyed through public parks and holiday parties. She contemplates the idea of becoming a wife or mother with a disdainful curl in her lip. She howls about lost love and her absent father. An extra dose of authenticity is added by Clark’s decision to use mostly period-accurate instruments manufactured in the late sixties and early seventies.
The name of the album comes from her father’s recent release from prison, where he spent nearly a decade for his part in a multimillion-dollar stock manipulation scheme—or, as Clark refers to it, “white-collar nonsense.” The album’s eponymous song begins, “I signed autographs in the visitation room/waiting for you the last time, inmate 502.” (This refers to a true anecdote: Clark really was asked to autograph a receipt once while waiting to visit her father.) Later in the song, Clark rips loose with repeated, wordless, drag-queen-esque screams while a dreamy synth chugs along in the background. What better way to express the raw emotion of daddy issues than some good old groovy tunes and rhapsodic hollering?
The theme of familial relationships is present throughout the album. In addition to the father-daughter relationship of “Daddy’s Home,” “Somebody Like Me” portrays a wedding scene, while the next song, “My Baby Wants a Baby,” deals with the pressure to become a mother and the desire to remain childless. “What would my baby say?” Clark croons. “I got your eyes and your mistakes.” The song asserts that motherhood is incompatible with the sort of freedom the narrator desires. “But I wanna play guitar all day/Make all my meals in microwaves/Only dress up if I get paid.” Background singers keen mournfully to a tempo that’s slow as dragging feet. Clark has never married nor raised children, but it seems that societal norms continue to weigh on her mind. (Still, she’s never hesitated to break those norms. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, she stated, “I believe in gender fluidity and sexual fluidity. I don't really identify as anything. I think you can fall in love with anybody. I don't have anything to hide but I'd rather the emphasis be on music.” (Cheers to that!)
Another important theme in Daddy’s Home is the idea of following in the footsteps of other great artists. “The Melting of the Sun” contains references to stars like Marilyn Monroe, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, and Pink Floyd. There’s a whole song about Candy Darling, the transgender actress who was featured many times in Andy Warhol’s work before her early death. Clark has also credited artists such as David Bowie, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, and more as sources of inspiration. The influence of each of these luminaries adds layer after layer of nuance to St. Vincent’s style. Fans will have a fun time trying to pick out where those nuances came from.
From the first psychedelic synth riff to the last twang of a sitar, Daddy’s Home delivers. There’s not a single song on this album that I didn’t like, and there’s plenty of variety: some songs are mellow and woozy while others are aggressive, nearly feral. There are physical altercations (“Mama always told me/‘You got to turn the other cheek’/But even she would agree, you're an exception to that rule”). There are overdoses, breakups, empty bank accounts, and suicidal ideation. Put more simply: there’s drama! Daddy’s Home is unapologetic, even hedonistic, reveling in pain and the ways we try to cope with it, all without ever losing its verve or spectacle. If you’ve enjoyed St. Vincent’s other music, you definitely won’t be disappointed by Daddy’s Home.