One of the most highly-regarded albums of 2017, St. Vincent’s ‘MASSEDUCTION’ explored every possible dimension of singer-songwriter Annie Clark. Largely built on foundations of electropop, featuring an array of dance music influences, helping to emphasise the album’s sexual overtones, ‘MASSEDUCTION’ resonated partly because at the time of release, it was Clark’s most personal record, but, with the heavyweight synth pop being placed at the forefront, its heartache is actually an aspect that one might glance over a little too easily.
‘MassEducation’ is a piano-based reworking of the the entirety of ‘MASSEDUCTION’, recorded during the mixing sessions of its predecessor. The album seems to reveal how the bubbly, synthesised texture of ‘MASSEDUCTION’ didn’t necessarily cause a neat juxtaposition, but actually a distraction from the darkness of Annie’s lyrics. Because of this, it’d be easy to understand if someone felt the acoustic minimalism of ‘MassEducation’ was actually superior, because this IS St. Vincent at her most vulnerable, and as the album’s artwork suggests, her most naked.
The sparse arrangements bring out the best in Clark’s lyrics, and how she uses her impressive vocal chops to nail them. The mere narrative of ‘Smoking Section’ was already one of the highlights of ‘MASSEDUCTION’, firstly demonstrating Annie’s wish, not to commit suicide, but to sit in a smoking section, feeling the damage done by second hand smoke would be doing her favour, before admitting there are times she’d gladly consider doing it herself, standing on a roof, or holding a gun in her hand. She actually sounds like she’s holding back tears when singing these words on this version of the song, and you could say the same about the “how could anybody have you and lose you?” chorus section of ‘Los Ageless’, or its “I guess that’s just me, honey” outro, or the entirety of the incredibly heartfelt ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’, a ballad of a damaged relationship.
Without any possible smoke shield guarding Clark’s music and song-structures, we get to witness just how dynamic a songwriter she is. ‘Savior’ might hold the first momentously dramatic moment on ‘MassEducation’, with the “and then you say ‘please’” bridge section feeling a lot more destructive simply because of the bareness of the piano, and the sudden shift to a complete minor key, with the chord stabbing you with its despair – pretty amazing, considering how the lyrics are about role-play kinks.
The synthesised power pop of ‘Sugarboy’ is brought down a peg or two, and the concerning lyrics of ‘Pills’ are realised fully on ‘MassEducation’, proving sometimes less is more, the main takeaway of the album.
‘MassEducation’ is an Annie Clark album – with the typical quirkiness of a St. Vincent album being shunned. Because of this, nobody could accuse Clark of putting on airs of any sort with this record, making this, a simple acoustic version of one of her biggest releases, her most powerful work.