Daddy’s home. And so is St. Vincent, or so one would believe. On her sixth studio album to date, Annie Clark pays homage to her father and the music he raised her on. Inspired by the music scene of downtown New York in the early '70s, the album sees Clark pick apart her relationship with those around her: her father, her lover, and even herself. Just as she did on her last record, Clark plays with your perception of reality by creating an entirely new persona for this time period; an alter–ego that functions both as a means of self-defense and artistic flourish. This time, she dons a blonde wig—her natural black curls poking out—and a bright green pant–suit as she plays the role of a dame down on her luck yet aware of her self–worth, who takes her troubles in stride.
The majority of the songs on Daddy’s Home fall into the category of pastiche—imitating the sound and style of this aforementioned era. Excluding “Pay Your Way In Pain” and “Down," the album sounds as if an Annie Clark from the '70s was dropped into a studio today and was told to make a record. Pastiche as it is used here isn’t necessarily a drawback. In fact, its effect is quite the opposite, since Clark rarely sounds like herself on the record. So, while the album remains a pastiche, it makes for a remarkably compelling auditory experience.
The story behind Daddy’s Home is fraught with familial complications. In 2010, Clark’s father was incarcerated for white–collar crime. His imprisonment and the emotional woes of that intense year culminated in the title track of her 2011 record Strange Mercy. Except, no one knew the whole story back then. Clark kept that part of her life private to protect herself and her family, including her much younger siblings.
Fast forward to 2016, and Clark's new relationship with the high–profile model Cara Delevingne places her personal life under a microscope. In the midst of paparazzi chases and MASSEDUCTION recording sessions, Clark’s life becomes even more complicated when the tabloids dig up her father’s criminal record for fodder.
Three years later, after her father is released from prison, Clark begins writing Daddy’s Home. This album is at once a tribute to him and a concession to the media, albeit on her own terms. Talking with W Magazine, Clark noted that her father’s incarceration was “kind of told without my consent.” And unlike the tabloids, who smeared Clark's father for the sake of gossip, Clark takes advantage of the album to tell his story (and her own) with “humor and compassion.”
As always with Annie Clark, ever with a wry trick up her sleeve, Daddy’s Home comes with a catch. The title itself is a sly double entendre tinged with kink. She is daddy, just as much as her father. She has a girlfriend, whose identity has been unspecified (and probably for the best), although that fact doesn’t come up anywhere on the album itself; any mentions of a significant other are glossed over with neutral terms like “lover” and “baby.” Clark queers the term "daddy" for herself.
While Clark's lived experiences make up the backstory behind the record, they don't constitute the entire album, much of which is pure costume. On the cover, she wears a blonde wig inspired by Candy Darling and knowingly smirks as if laughing at a joke only she understands. A black stocking reaches up to her thigh, her shoulders swathed in fur. Her mascara is slightly smudged, and her fingers are bejeweled with rings. In her words, she is a "beauty that has been up for 3 days," yet her look isn’t all feral femininity. There’s a certain masculine grit underneath all that jazz that crops up from time to time on Daddy’s Home.
The title track swaggers along at a leisurely pace. The bass saunters, much like a mobster flipping a coin as he walks down the street to his next hit. She sings of signing
"autographs in the visitation room" of her father’s prison, only to then muse about how "down and out" she looks in her "fine Italian shoes." She scoffs at her father, who has done some time, that she "did some time too." During the press cycle for the promotion of this album, Clark continually emphasized how essential the human capacity for change is. Indeed, in this record, she has become just as much of a "dad" as her old man is.
This kind of nascent and flippant masculinity infuses the dark humor of “The Laughing Man,” a harrowing tribute to a late childhood friend. The song ends with the brooding couplet “If life’s a joke / then I’m dying laughing.” She tosses off the lines like a drunk at the bar past midnight, glass in hand and cloaked in cigarette smoke, the grime of the day’s work apparent from his five–o'clock shadow. The revenge fantasy of “Down” blends both of Clark’s masculine and feminine energies into an exhilarating three minutes of pure adrenaline. “Get off of my tit / Go face your demons, check into treatment / Go flee the country, go blame your daddy,” she sneers.
Counterbalancing this energy is the desperation that Daddy's Home exudes in its latter half. “Somebody Like Me” glides along at a brisk pace, belying the grimly odd metaphor for love in the lyrics. Through slurred words and elongated vowels, Clark describes a person dressing up as an angel, climbing up a building, and jumping. By risking your heart, essentially, you are putting your trust in love. "Love is a mutually agreed–upon delusion," Clark elaborated in interviews.
Next up is the highlight “My Baby Wants a Baby,” in which Clark paints an abject self–portrait, projecting into the void her fears of what others will say if she never has a child. Although not explicitly stated in the lyrics or any press releases, the gripping line of “Won’t even have your sympathy” coupled with the gusto with which it is delivered seems aimed at her father if only for the title of the record, although her exact subject remains unclear.
Then there is “...At The Holiday Party.” The song captures that moment at a party when you get a glimpse of someone’s inner life behind the smiles and drinks for a split second. The refrain of “you can’t hide from me” constitutes the outro, repeated to arousing effect, as if to affirm to the listener that they’re seen and will get where they need to be, eventually.
Tacked onto the end of the album is “Candy Darling,” a short but touching tribute to the late Warhol muse and trans pioneer. Yet its brevity doesn’t diminish its emotional impact. Clark pictures the woman with a bouquet of red bodega roses as she waves from the “latest uptown train.” The image is instantly memorable, imprinted in the listener’s mind at the song’s conclusion. The one caveat to the otherwise perfect song is the record it’s included in. Candy Darling is an obvious inspiration for Clark’s look and persona this era, and the song is a moving eulogy to a fellow queer icon. But it didn’t escape my mind that it could all be for show, that it’s a hey–look–how–woke–I–am virtue–signaling moment. What does Candy Darling have to do with her father anyways, beyond the '70s music he introduced to Clark? Ultimately, I believe that the song is both sincere and cynical at once, a genuine ploy of shrewd politics.
Daddy’s Home’s complexity does not end with its content. Punctuated throughout the record are three 20 to 50–second “Humming” interludes. Boldly, the final one concludes the album, haunting the listener to return to the grime and grit of Clark’s '70s New York once more. As she told Anthony Fantano, she used recordings of her mother’s near–constant humming for these interludes. As such, the familial bonds underscoring the album extend beyond the surface level.
Of all the songs off of Daddy's Home, “The Melting Of The Sun” sounds most out–of–sync with the times, a transmission from the ’70s to now, washed in reverbed guitar and a choir of Black voices. Listing off her idols from Joan Didion to Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone to PJ Harvey, Clark casually ranks herself among these women while surveying the fraying seams of America through a profound allegory of the sun's destruction. At the same time, she lays bare the crux of her modus operandi: “To tell the truth, I lied.” In doing so, she places her personal drama against American’s current politics and their destructive nature. In a strange way, the song is a comfort for these uncertain times as we slowly edge back to normality. “Girl, the world's spinning ‘round / spinning down and out of time,” sings the back–up singers in the outro, “Girl, you can’t give in now / when you’re down / down and out.” Even when she is down on her luck, Clark still finds hope for herself and those close to her.