I haven’t been so conflicted and frustrated in an album review for a very long time. St Vincent’s surprise release of a complete piano and vocal rendition of her most recent album Masseduction from last year was something that made me super excited. I’ve always appreciated how creatively electronic St Vincent has been over the years so hearing her stripped down and working with her pianist friend Thomas Bartlett, in theory, means that its time to lay everything bare and have some vulnerability.
There are moments where the format and album works an absolute treat. The simplicity of hearing “Slow Disco” as a simple ballad is lovely. “Smoking Section” is just as tired sounding and knackered as it was the first time around and some of the more frantic moments where Bartlett’s renditions create absolute swirling tornados of sound to create very theatrical moments such as the second half of “Savior” and the rolling beauty of “Sugarboy” show how versatile the songs can be when given a full transformation. The problem here is that often songs are really literally translated across and so “Masseduction” is a rambling mid-tempo mess, “Pills” sounds a bit like it wants to go on Broadway but without the commitment to sell it and Los Ageless loses some of its shine. I expect some of this will start to grow on me on repeated listens but if there was one thing I didn’t expect from the arrangements it was flatness.
There is one aspect to the album that I really do struggle with and its the lack of vocal focus. I’ll try to explain myself. There are phrases and passages littered throughout the album where Annie sounds like she’s completely unsure of where she’s going to sing octave wise. Often instead of going for something soft, she’ll drop to a talky low throaty croak that lacks power and drops off mid-word. It’s like she is trying to show fatigue but in doing so there and then committing to a different octave the next line, it sounds all over the place. I didn’t mind the gravelly knackered sound for the single time in “Smoking Section” but when its used constantly it doesn’t sound right at all because it doesn’t sound comfortable. I’m not sure if time will let my ears adjust and enjoy but I found it really infuriating – probably because for example “New York” has a soft growing angelic chorus which is now a spoken grating growl.
I’m sure most fans will enjoy having these tracks reworked and have fun deciding their favourite versions but aside from a few notable exceptions, I won’t be returning to this album too quickly because it sounds like a few songs were really well rearranged then the rest were rushed through at the end.
Recommended track: Savior
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