The short description of the new album Daddy’s Home is “St. Vincent does soul music.” More specifically, the shape-shifting modern-art-rock maestro looked to the soul and R & B music of the early nineteen-seventies, citing Stevie Wonder specifically but clearly calling on all manner of hot-wax heroes to give her inspiration. The uncommon exceptionalism of St. Vincent is that she doesn’t emerge from a create process like that with a pastiche nor material that strains for retro bona fides. She makes as album that still sounds powerfully, unmistakably just like her, the influences absorbed and transmogrified.
The warped funk of album opener and lead single “Pay Your Way In Pain” sets a high bar to clear that St. Vincent swirls around with different stylistic offerings, gliding up to it from time to time to drum her fingers playfully on its steely surface. The bright sheen of control that defined her last couple standout records is still present. It’s met and matched by a surprising warmth, especially on the tracks “Down and Out Downtown” and “Somebody Like Me” (“Does it make you an angel or some kind of freak/ To believe enough in somebody like me, baby?”). That tenderness might reach its ideal form on “…At the Holiday Party,” which is like Laura Nyro fronting the Five Stairsteps. It doesn’t particularly feel like reinvention nor evolution. It’s just another thing St. Vincent can do.
She’s also a casual showoff, taking serene pleasure in her ability to layer songs with rippling, Technicolor wonders. The driftiness of “Live in the Dream” is sent rippling by a soaring guitar solo that clearly positions the track closer to Paisley Park than Strawberry Fields on the great tie-dyed map of the psychedelic outer lands. “My Baby Wants a Baby” escalates with thrilling assurance, and “Down” somehow, and radically, suggests the pop Eden we could have all been ushered into had Heart decided against selling their souls the devil of power ballads and instead put their shoulders into making their own “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
Every new St. Vincent project comes with a whole tsunami of performative extras, all Daddy’s Home is no exception, with elaborate videos, side swag, variant album covers, and, of course, a new uniform for the guitar-slinger herself to don. Even as it feels odd to ignore it — like I’m willfully missing part of the whole scene — I find that aspect of the St. Vincent experience to be less and less interesting with each diminishing return. The trappings are all fine, but I recognize they’re ephemeral. The music in the grooves is what matters. On Daddy’s Home, it’s still choice.