Saint-Vincent’s “ papa’s house ” is an empty mystery
daddy’s house, on first listen, it looks like it might impress his critics. St. Vincent has undertaken a dramatic sonic reinvention that emphasizes, in his words, “release and groove”. The palette is rock and soul from the early 70s: the boogying synths of Stevie Wonder, the spatial noodling of Pink Floyd, the rhythmic urgency of War, the haughty haze of the Velvet Underground. Although producer Jack Antonoff worked with St. Vincent on his 2017 album, Masseduction, his bond with her is now more reminiscent of the finely detailed nostalgia journeys he took with Lana Del Rey. Some daddy’s house the songs are physically smelly in the same fun way that Parliament-Funkadelic can be. Many are complete workouts that require to be performed in a bar with carpeted floors scented with cigarette smoke.
The prompt behind the album also seems rich: one artist is considering her father’s sins, punishment, potential redemption, and how she feels about it. On the title song, Campy’s backup singers whistle as she recalls signing “autographs in the visitation room” on her father’s last day in jail. The tone is playful and conspiratorial as Saint Vincent brags about her and her father “tight as a Bible with the pages stuck like glue”. Her saga – and St. Vincent’s relationship with it – also feels evident in the album’s references to 70s queer icon Candy Darling, of whom Andy Warhol filmed and Lou Reed sang. In St. Vincent’s tale, Darling is yet another lovable outlaw.
Yet with repeated listening daddy’s house, a familiar hollow sets in. The album mimics the madness of the stoner but is never extreme enough to feel all that trippy. The sounds of progressive rock dress up four-minute fables rather than fueling a wilder exploration. Lyrically, Saint Vincent connects pieces of poetry which, with a few exceptions – the bubbling “Down”, the melancholy “… At the Holiday Party”, the performance piece “My Baby Wants a Baby” – are boil down to emotional beige. As for the story of his father, it does not grow in calculation, revelation or vulnerability. The greatest insight she offers comes at the end of the title song, when she sings, “We were all born innocent / But some good saints fuck themselves” and “All good Puritans / They will pray for reformation.” These lines blend liveliness and vagueness, as many of Saint Vincent’s sayings have done, but the larger context means that the mystery created is not exactly a productive mystery.
To take the bait of reflection: the word reform has unmistakable connotations in a song about the prison being released at a time when restorative justice and mass incarceration are hotly debated. All the good puritans it just sounds mocking. Saint Vincent seems to roll his eyes, but to what? She said Then me that the purpose of writing about his father’s prison was to show that “no one is perfect and people make mistakes and people can transform.” To Madden, she complained, “There’s a lot of judgment and not a lot of understanding.” Some listeners have taken such statements to mean that, as NME touted in its title, Saint-Vincent addresses “the culture of cancellation”.