The fourth studio album from Annie Erin Clark is remarkable for not just its breadth and depth but its protean nature: this is musical shape-shifting of the type you never really get from name acts anymore. At various points during this compelling affair, you will be reminded of most everything from Krautrock to Prefab Sprout to early Suede, with some Talking Heads bubbling under.
Beginning with the electro-folk-sounding Rattlesnake, it’s clear that, sonically, everything is up for grabs. Clark flings everything at these songs. With others the result might be an indulgent mess (or, to put it politely, “eclectic”). On St Vincent, most everything sticks.
She can do straightforward gorgeous (Prince Johnny), indietronica (Digital Witness) and bouncy electro (Birth in Reverse). Severed Crossed Fingers, the closing track, is a relatively downbeat affair that piles on the smouldering emotion in one of the best things she has ever done.
Despite all the impressive sophistication, Clarke can still take the direct approach, as on the stand out track I Prefer Your Love. Conjuring up the same sort of mood as Sinéad O’Connor’s cover of Nothing Compares 2 U, Clark softens her vocals and loads up the reverb to deliver a torch song of distinction.
At times Clark neglects to tie up all the loose ends. Bring Me Your Loves, for example, has all the right ingredients, but just gets a bit too busy. But this is a minor complaint in a work that should be given to any Florence & the Machine fans in need of a real musical education. There’s more to musical life out there than Lady Gaga or Katy Perry – or even PJ Harvey.
St Vincent is a beguiling collection by someone with the courage and vision to reach that bit further. And as some indication of the quality on offer here, it’s entirely possible that Clarke could also release a stripped-back acoustic version, which would bring a whole new dimension to the songs.
Download: Prince Johnny, Digital Witness, I Prefer Your Love, Severed Crossed Fingers