Another Star Turn
In the world of Annie Clark, life is a show and we all play a part. After her roles touring with Sufjan Stevens and The Polyphonic Spree, Clark as St. Vincent began putting on her own lavish productions with her charming debut Marry Me. She takes center stage again on Actor with bigger budgets and a more ambitious script. The result is a cinematic tour de force that celebrates as well as expands Clarke’s strengths as a singer/songwriter.Clark stated in interviews that she drew inspiration for Actor from classic Disney scores. That translates loud and clear on the album’s Technicolor arrangements of guitars, strings, and woodwinds. It also adds a sharp, shrewd contrast to her increasingly dark lyrics. Leadoff opus “The Strangers” blooms to life like the pastoral overture to Snow White until Clark’s typically barbed charm clicks on like the cynical magic mirror: “Desperate don’t look good on you / Neither does your virtue.” Before long, there are haunted choral pleas to “paint the black hole blacker” and the evil Queen’s black forest envelops the whole scene with a shredding guitar crescendo.
Similar twists occur in the brief but potent “Actor Out of Work,” where St. Vincent comes off like Sleeping Beauty kissing off a would-be savior as a one-night stand over a charging, Bowie-esque beat backed by what sounds like an army of Judy Garlands. Then there’s the flat-out brilliant “Marrow,” turning a playful nursery rhyme on its head with violent horn outbursts and a menacing electro-stomp; the gruesomely titled, gorgeously orchestrated “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood;” the distorted, Hitchcockian swell of “Black Rainbow.”
Like any good sequel should, St. Vincent’s sophomore effort reinforces what worked in its predecessor while skillfully setting up arcs to be carried on in future installments. While it would arguably be nice if some of Annie Clark’s show revealed more about herself (it is her stylized face on the cover after all, another Bowie trait), one can’t be pressed to complain when she plays her parts so flawlessly.