The title track of St Vincent’s sixth album, Daddy’s Home, is about a woman visiting her jailbird father in prison. It is played for laughs. The music is a pitch-perfect funk pastiche, like George Clinton’s satires of straight America. A kitsch refrain of “Daddy’s Home” evokes visions of a salaryman flinging open the front door after a heroic day at the office. But daddy’s actual home in the song is behind bars, a criminal patriarch.
This ingenious mix of Sigmund Freud and Sly and The Family Stone makes light of a real-life family secret. In 2010, the US singer-songwriter’s father, Richard Clark, was jailed for his part in a $43m pump-and-dump share fraud. It was revealed by a newspaper in 2016, after St Vincent, real name Annie Clark, had gone from indie music darling to tabloid fodder due to a romantic relationship with the model Cara Delevingne (now over). The episode is alluded to in the song “Down and Out Downtown” where a muckraking hack is cast as a cartoon villain, the “joker with the funny laugh” who “is digging through the basement of my past”.
Usually reluctant to yoke together her work and her personal life, St Vincent has chosen to take back a story that, in her words, “was sort of told against my will” (she has made opaque references to it in previous songs). Her method, characteristically, involves fantasy and role play, not confessionals. “To tell the truth I lied,” she sings at one point. The ambiguous line recasts a similar lyric from her 2009 song “Actor Out of Work”: “You’re a liar and that’s the truth”.
She has co-produced the album with Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey), who also worked on its predecessor, 2017’s Masseduction. Despite the continuity, the musical style performs a volte-face, swapping elaborate electronic pop for a loose, let-it-all-hang-out groove borrowed from the 1970s. The title track’s rudely comical funk is shared by opening number “Pay Your Way in Pain”. Elsewhere, there are soulful classic-rock numbers that unfold at a mellow pace, with a strong influence of Los Angeles’s storied hippy enclave, Laurel Canyon (where St Vincent’s studio is based).
Guitar notes bend and twang as though in a heat haze. An electric sitar adds a psychedelic dimension. Horns and a Wurlitzer organ shimmer in the background. Backing singers Lynne Fiddmont and Kenya Hathaway are good foils for St Vincent’s singing, a gospel chorus for her tales of fallen individuals.
“ . . . At the Holiday Party” is a warm-sounding but mercilessly phrased country-soul portrait of a pill-popping woman sacrificing her talent. “Live in the Dream” takes a kinder view of its protagonist, an innocent young victim of some kind of violent crime. The song’s title appears to be inspired by a key line from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a supremely sinister account of a father-daughter relationship, while the music draws on the television series’s dreamlike soundtrack. It is capped by a reverb-drenched guitar solo, a welcome moment when St Vincent allows her fretwork skills to be spotlighted.
Daddy’s Home has some impressive songs, a sign of St Vincent’s distinction as a musician and songwriter. But it also lacks cohesiveness, especially in its second half. The tone wavers between Lynch-style surrealness, comic exuberance and tenderness. A desire for careful plotting, evident in echoed imagery running through the lyrics, doesn’t sit comfortably with the free-and-easy musical atmosphere. It is a decent album, ambitious in scope and well performed, but it doesn’t strike the home run that she has previously achieved.
‘Daddy’s Home’ is released by Loma Vista