Half a century ago, back when pop music itself was still a sulky teenager, the Kinks’ Ray Davies sung of people taking pictures of each other “just to prove that they really existed“, a theme that Annie Clark updates on “Digital Witness”, an early preview from her eponymous fourth album as St. Vincent: “If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me/ What’s the point in doing anything?” she asks, mirroring the anxieties of selfie-sharing Tweeters, Facebook addicts and over-zealous Instagram users the world over who seem utterly convinced that if any moment in time – from their kid’s first nappy change to what they ate for lunch – isn’t captured immediately and made available for the whole world to see and comment on it will somehow be forgotten and lost forever. It’s easy to assume irony on Clark’s part, but it might well be that she’s just as obsessed with broadcasting the minutiae of her life as everyone else. St. Vincent is full of lyrical details that paint the singer as alarmingly open, even exhibitionist, and certainly not afraid to (over) share: on “Rattlesnake” she decides to strip naked on a secluded nature trail before being sent scurrying for cover by the titular serpent, whilst “Prince Johnny” finds her “prostrate on the carpet“, swapping pillow talk with an unchivalrous lothario about the time they crushed up and snorted a stolen piece of the Berlin Wall. On the jittery “Birth In Reverse” she’s even more forthright, ticking off items on her daily to-do list (“Take out the garbage, masturbate“) with the mischievous flippancy of someone who’s all too aware they’ve just steamed up the horn-rimmed glasses of thousands of doe-eyed indie boys. She’s hardly flooding the social networks with half naked photos of herself smoking joints in strip clubs, but it’s fair to say Clark isn’t exactly a recluse either.
Not that she needs to raise eyebrows to secure her place in rock history: her debut album Marry Me set Clark apart as a prodigiously talented arranger and multi-instrumentalist, and each subsequent release – Actor, Strange Mercy and 2012’s David Byrne collaboration Love This Giant – has found her honing those skills, her stock rising accordingly to the point where she’s now equally likely to feature in the pages of The Guardian or Guitarist magazine, and be praised to the heavens in both. St. Vincent contains much to delight all sections of her fan-base: for those in love with her voice there’s the way Clark’s purr turns to a roar as effortlessly as a sleepy lioness admonishing her overly boisterous cubs, and there’s enough technological trickery – courtesy of producer John Congleton – to keep the gear nerds puzzling for months. There are the finger-in-the-mains solos that come out of nowhere and still manage to shock a dozen listens later, and the clipped, funky beats that sound as if they were played by a robot programmed to sound like a human drummer pretending to be a robot (actually the Dap Kings’ Homer Steinweiss and Midlake’s McKenzie Smith); there are nods to McCartney (“Regret”) and Bowie (“Severed Crossed Fingers”) and, of course, Byrne and songs so clever and so catchy you won’t even realise they’ve mutated into something else entirely by the time they finish. There’s elegant, understated Annie (“I Prefer Your Love”) and scary, over-the-top Annie (“Bring Me Your Loves”), experimental Annie, raunchy Annie, bruised Annie, funny Annie and more, and these songs are their profile photos, the pictures they take of each other to prove they really existed. Whether they ever did is another matter – Clark blends fact and fantasy as skilfully as any writer – but amongst so much inane digital waste (“Dinner@Pizza Hut!! #GoodTimes” etc.) it’s irrelevant; these are status updates that actually deserve your attention, from an artist that truly deserves your love.