St. Vincent Transports Us Back To The 70s
I think of myself as a child of the 70s, musically at least. My formative music years began in the 1970s as a pre-teen and then teenager. While I was predominantly into progressive rock and then golden age punk and new wave, I feel all manner of 70s music in my bones. So, apparently, does Annie Clark a.k.a. St. Vincent. Her new album Daddy’s Home is so chock full of 70s influences and homages, that it transports me back to my carefree youth of paper routes, schools, drinking cheap beer in the woods, and listening to the radio. Ah, simpler times.
The lead off song and single from Daddy’s Home, “Pay It Forward in Pain”, is a flat-out soul song in the style of 70s Aretha Franklin. I don’t say that frivolously, Aretha is a goddess in the pantheon of popular music, especially R&B and soul. This was already the case in the early 70s when her late 60s songs such as “Respect” were a stable of AM and FM radio. Besides, she was in the Blues Brothers movie. Her turn in that film alone makes her a goddess. For St. Vincent to rise to Aretha-like stature is quite an achievement.
More 70s goodness follows. Pink Floyd homages abound especially “Live in The Dream”, which sounds like it could be “Us and Them Part 2” (off the album Dark Side of the Moon) if that existed. It uses many of Pink Floyd’s song structure techniques including a quiet, minimalist introduction (that literally sounds like a sample from “Us and Them”), dreamy vocals, jangly guitar strums, a rising crescendo, and a David Gilmour-like guitar solo in the middle of the song. It would seem like a pale imitation in the hands of a less talented artist, but St. Vincent pulls it off with sheer musicianship. This song is yet another reminder of just how expert a guitar player Annie Clark is. The second previously released single from the album “The Melting of the Sun“, is a brilliant piece of 70s homage but especially the Pink Floyd psychedelia influences. Once again, St. Vincent channels Pink Floyd and creates something wonderful but not derivative.
There is a fair amount of blues and funk in this album, but in that smooth 70s vein. “Down and Out Downtown” has that bluesy 70 style that was common with artists such as Roberta Flack. “The Laughing Man” is more Marvin Gaye style soul. It’s slow and soulful, except… it too has a touch of psychedelic. “Down” on the other hand is pure funk soul. Think mid-70s Isaac Hayes. The funk guitar is exceptional, somehow both traditional and fresh. There’s a lot of wah-wah to love in this song.
There are also homages to the soft pop stars of the 70s. “The Melting of the Sun” has some elements that are reminiscent of the band Bread. “Somebody Like Me” comes across like a lost Carpenters song or maybe a love letter to Karen Carpenter. “…At the Holiday Party” is a charming soft rock song. It left me searching my memory for Minnie Ripperton and Ashford and Simpson songs from the AM radio of my teens. The horn section is right out of The Ohio Players. The album closes with “Candy Darling”. I know exactly what this reminded me of but didn’t want to say it. Ok, early 70s John Lennon. There I said it. It’s rare that I’m willing to elevate an artist to the level of one of the Beatles (expect Ringo. Ringo is great but still not John Lennon). St. Vincent, though, deserves that consideration.
There are some odd moments on the album but that’s to be expected – this is St. Vincent after all. The title track “Daddy’s Home” is a more conventional St. Vincent song. It’s quirky with a typical St. Vincent guitar and vocals. It’s good but doesn’t seem to fit the theme of the album. “Humming – Interlude 1” is very short piece that sound more like the 50s mixed with the Cowboy Junkies. “Humming – Interlude 2” is just a weird instrumental. It’s 28 seconds of random sounds and moaning. Finally, there is “Humming – Interlude 3” at the end of the album and it is 38 seconds of… music? I don’t get the “Humming” songs. I think they were meant to be breaks between sections of the album, giving it more cohesiveness. They are just too weird to work that way. Besides, a 70s album doesn’t call out for cohesiveness and neither should this one. I think they are meant as the sonic equivalent of a palate cleanser but end up seeming out of place.
Daddy’s home is consciously full of 70s music but with a 2020’s spin. Maybe Annie was stuck at home, listening to her parents’ old records, and doing shrooms throughout the pandemic. That would explain the psychedelia, soul, funk, and soft rock. It may even explain the “Humming – Interlude” songs. The shrooms do anyway. This album will certainly touch an older crowd that hears its own music in a new framework. Younger listeners will also enjoy “Daddy’s Home” because, for them, this is new and different. In the hands of a lesser artist, this would have been a train wreck full of bad 70s references. With St. Vincent, however, it becomes a masterpiece.
On a side note, I can’t help noticing just how many great albums have been released lately. Maybe the time off from touring has given artists the time to pursue deeper ideas. Whatever it is, it’s a great time for tunes, past to present.