The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow, and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.
Closely following a St. Vincent album rollout is akin to a masterclass in world building. With each album, Annie Clark expertly fine tunes an eccentric protagonist; her 2019 Grammy-nominated Masseduction followed a dominatrix visionary freshly out of a mental hospital while her 2015 self-titled LP laid out the path of a futuristic cult leader. Clark’s previous releases envision a surreal future with cutting-edge guitars, but on her sixth album Daddy’s Home, it’s clear Clark is taking her sound in a different direction.
The beguiling persona Clark built around Daddy’s Home is drawn from the past. Her Masseduction character was deadpan in pleather and hot pink spandex, but this time, Clark dons a blown-out blonde bob and sepia-toned sunglasses. She embodies the elegant and charismatic charm of ‘70s trans icon and Warholian muse Candy Darling, who she even memorializes with a song on the LP. But hiding beneath the shiny polyester and mascara-smeared stoic gaze of Clark’s Daddy’s Home persona is her most personal album to date. A departure from the futuristic sounds heard on her previous releases, Clark’s Daddy’s Home instead looks to history in order to reckon with her own complicated past. The album is Clark’s way of reclaiming her story while offering an earnest examination of how our society romanticizes the archetype of the struggling artist.
Clark is notoriously guarded with her personal life. She’s always found ways to cleverly skirt around direct interview questions about her past, like playing a voice recording on her phone when a journalist asks her a question she’s tired of answering. But any separation built between her music and her personal life came crashing down when she began dating UK supermodel Cara Delevingne around 2015. Once their relationship went public, UK tabloid The Daily Mail scoured through court documents and rang distant family members to uncover any and all information they could about Clark’s life. The tabloid published a piece exposing Clark’s father for being imprisoned on a $43 million stock manipulation charge in 2010, a fact the musician intentionally kept secret in order to protect her younger siblings and privately work through the trauma.
With Daddy’s Home, Clark’s story is no longer under the control of tabloids. She examines the complex feelings around her father’s indictment through the lens of a sleazy struggling artist dwelling in mid-’70s New York City. The visuals released for Daddy’s Home seem to be ripped from the pages of a Patti Smith memoir, arousing the grimy chicness of a broke artist, or as Clark puts it in press materials, “glamor who hasn’t slept in three days.” Each grainy video depicts a half strung-out Clark sulking around a worn-down apartment complex looking effortlessly-cool in muted earth tones and cheap jewelry.
The music on Daddy’s Home is steeped in the same aesthetic. The woozy sitars, sultry back-up vocals, and embellishing jazz flutes draw inspiration from the early ‘70s music Clark grew up listening to. Her album opener and lead single “Pay Your Way To Pain” begins with playful piano keys before breaking down into a fuzzy and entrancing riff. It’s here she introduces her album’s languid protagonist who wanders the streets in search of survival. “You’ve got to pay / Your way in pain / You’ve got to pray / Your way in shame,” she repeats with a hint of sarcasm at the chorus, poking fun at our society’s obsession with hustle culture and the notion one must suffer in order to make it big.
Songs like “Down And Out Downtown” and “Living The Dream” similarly unpack what it means to be a struggling artist. A groovy bassline offers the backbone to the former track, a song where Clark soulfully speaks to the less-than-glamorous act of the early morning walk of shame. “Living The Dream” adds a more personal touch. It’s a fever dream of shimmering sitars opening with her protagonist waking up from a drunken stupor to find themselves in an unfamiliar place. Contending with her creative lifestyle, Clark listlessly asserts, “I can’t live in the dream / The dream lives in me.” The line speaks how essential music is to her life while also examining the concept of lineage and inheritance. Can she avoid some of the traits passed on by her father, or are they inevitable and living dormant inside of her?
Exploring a different facet of her artistry, Clark’s track “The Melting Of The Sun” questions her legacy. Briefly shirking her Daddy’s Home persona, Clark grapples with the duties of being crowned an influential woman in rock music. The sorrowful-yet-heady tune name drops pop culture and famous feminist icons like Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone, praising the serious sacrifices they made for their art while wondering if she herself is worthy of comparison. The song also pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, someone who became an era’s symbol of beauty while quietly suffering in private. “Who’m I trying to be / A benz’d out beauty queen?” Clark wonders, wrestling with how she critiques culture by crafting characters rather than taking a more direct approach.
When Clark does decide to be direct, it’s still somewhat veiled. Her mellow title track “Daddy’s Home” is the most explicit she’s ever spoken about her personal life. She sings of signing autographs for various inmates as she waits for her father’s official release from prison, a surreal moment that actually happened. She notes how strange it was to see her father’s green prison jumpsuit in contrast with the fancy Italian leather shoes on her own feet. Repeating the words “Daddy’s Home” with an acerbic sense of humor, Clark explores how the fatherly roles have been reversed. Yes, her father is finally returning home, but this time she’s taken on the role of caretaker.
Though Daddy’s Home finally sheds light on Clark’s personal life, the album does it in her own way: dreamy, vague, and heavily cloaked in references. She’s now in control of her own story, sharing some insights while still leaving room for speculation with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. That’s because, like any true artist, it’s the act of creation that’s for herself. “I think once I make the work and put it out in the world, it’s really for everybody else,” Clark said about the album. “How you take it is no business of mine.”
Daddy’s Home is out now via Loma Vista. Get it here.