The elusive songwriter and indie darling St. Vincent has returned with a new album, “Daddy’s Home,” a legacy rock album filtered through her unique lens. Now, at the risk of giving up the goods too quickly, I’ll preface this with my personal thoughts: the album is very enjoyable, though not Vincent’s best work. If you like St. Vincent, or heck if you like female-led indie rock of any kind, you will probably enjoy this record. The duo of her virtuosic arrangements with ubiquitous producer Jack Antonoff is virtually untouchable from an auditory perspective and easily makes up for any faults in lyricism and songwriting. That said, I’d like to take you on a tour of the album’s reception and influences, and ask what’s next for St. Vincent and her generation of indie stars.
Reception to the album has been positive, but somewhat fraught. St. Vincent is a notoriously reclusive singer who dislikes press interviews, and this album is her most personal record yet. Unsurprisingly, this has generated conflict. While some publications have condemned Vincent’s press hostility, including her alleged attempts to “kill” an interview with Jezebel she didn’t like, I do have to admit some of the reviews and coverage for this album has overhyped the autobiographical nature of “Daddy’s Home.” The title, ostensibly a reference to Vincent’s own formerly imprisoned father, signifies that this will be personal for a St. Vincent album. However, in the scheme of indie records, this is still a strictly musical affair. The lyrics play second fiddle to the music, the songwriting to solos and so on. The press reaction has largely focused on Vincent’s personal life, so I’d like to take a moment to appease Ms. Clarke and analyze her music from a purely auditory perspective.
This is a legacy rock album, which is a label usually a pejorative for bands stuck in the past, but St. Vincent owns the label. While I would hardly call “Daddy’s Home” an innovative record, it also doesn’t feel anachronistic. The production aesthetics are vintage 1972, with Vincent purchasing period-accurate technologies to produce the album. The justification was that Vincent was trying to connect with the musical language of her father’s vinyl cabinet. As a result, there are a lot of boomer influences on display that have gone out of fashion in favor of more ’80s-oriented synthpop and punk aesthetics. All of Vincent’s previous work has favored the likes of Kate Bush or of David Bowie’s ’80s output, making this change of pace abrupt, but at the very least sonically interesting.
Bands like Greta Van Fleet still nip at the heels of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, but Vincent is more interested in blending these influences with her own personal pantheon. On “Melting of the Sun” Vincent lays out this pantheon of Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos and the ever-present Candy Darling, who gets her own tribute song. These women, combined with Amos’ perennial male influences of David Bowie and Lou Reed, blend together into a kind of classicism. She is not trying to sound like any one of these artists but work within a venerated classical tradition of rock songwriters, using their style to express her own ideas. The effect is an album that is rooted in the past without being backward facing. However, this can also leave the album feeling formulaic at points, as the only songs that really caught my ear outside the context of the record were the singles.
As St. Vincent and many of her indie rock contemporaries age out of the mainstream, I expect they will experiment with this retro style more freely. Indie needs new ideas, and St. Vincent has responded by looking to the past. If this is her new direction, she will need new ideas and different angles. “Daddy’s Home” is pretty good, but here’s to hoping she has some more retro tricks up her sleeve in the coming years.