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Strange Mercy
St. Vincent Strange Mercy
Released 12 September 2011
Producer(s) Annie Clark, John Congleton
Label 4AD
Length 41:16
Genre Indie rock, pop
Website www.ilovestvincent.com

Having gone through the Sufjan Stevens, Polyphonic Spree music collective school for aspiring soloists, Annie Clark then worked up the ranks of acclaim with sparkling first album Marry Me and the breakthrough follow up Actor. 2011 finds Annie Clark no longer the 'Cheerleader' performer the third track on Strange Mercy decries, in fact, she's now had three album's worth of front and centre. Time enough for any performer to mature and with the trials of a difficult second album surpassed with an ease and accomplishment that saw St. Vincent hitting highs of commercial success, one wonders what delights the button eyed songstress has in store this time around?

As different as Marry Me is to Actor, Strange Mercy sees a further increase in distorted guitar and an abandoning of some of the smoky bar jazz promise of Marry Me in favour of the adventurously electronic. In an attempt for new territory and invention, the grungy distortions of a heavily laden pedal board battles layered orchestral string sections in more than one track with opener 'Chloe in the Afternoon', for a moment, sounding bafflingly Bjork like before a descent into a far heavier albeit comparatively uninteresting sound. 'Cruel', 'Cheerleader' and 'Surgeon', with clear cut choruses, are initially familiar terrain but the rise and fall symphonic accompaniments lack the emotion of previous album's efforts. In fact, often much of Actor's early promise seems distant and while Clark still sings tantalisingly about a series of melancholic disorders as if educed from Disney song, the lyrical longing grows absent amidst the rawer edged sound where Strange Mercy aims.

There, dappled with disco beats and distortion, this rawer edge, while not exactly pulling teeth, is, at times, more parlor trick than mark of genius. And where Clark, weaving song in cynical, sweet, cerebral prose, could almost be an indie Emily Dickinson (think of the inebriated arias of I taste a liquor never brewed put to song or the intriguing melancholia of A certain slant of light beside the moody tracks like 'Laughing with a Mouth of Blood' or 'The Strangers' from Actor) here only a number of songs fulfill such potential. In fact Strange Mercy's better pieces come later, with its title track haunting reprise, “If I ever meet that dirty policeman who roughed you up...” at number six and complex lingering songs like 'Hysterical Strength' and 'Year of the Tiger' helping the album end strongly.

While Strange Mercy is by no means ever a bad album, its downfalls mere peccadilloes placed aside its achievements as a whole, it certainly isn't my favourite of the three. So instead a word of advice, perhaps, to not let this be your introduction to the band, buy the back catalogue, listening to Strange Mercy as a supplemental rather than standalone experience.

- Cormac O’Brien