Album Reviews

St Vincent – All Born Screaming

(Virgin/Fiction) UK release date: 26 April 2024


Annie Clark has made a restless, mercurial, kaleidoscopic record that will really alienate some yet completely bewitch the rest

St Vincent - All Born Screaming The primary influence on St Vincent‘s last record, 2021’s Daddy’s Home, was the golden era of album rock: the mid ’70s. Despite all of its excess and luxury, there was a cohesion and conceptual through line across the record that had fans likening it (sonically, at least) to The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Though that is quite the remarkable feat, the reception to Daddy’s Home might have been a touch more muted than those responsible for it perhaps hoped – especially considering that it’s bloody good. But All Born Screaming, Annie Clark’s seventh or ninth album with the St Vincent moniker depending who you ask, represents a complete reboot, and is surprising for its abandonment of stylistic cohesion. Perhaps Clark just fancied a change.

At its best, All Born Screaming sounds like a really well-curated greatest hits, or at least a very good retrospective. (At its worst you might argue that it sounds like a collection of offcuts or B-sides.) There are so many different styles, flavours, tones and ideas here that it can seem completely overwhelming on first listen. There are bits of Nine Inch Nails, a touch of Rush, some folk, a bit of digital funk, a hint of reggae, and a surprising lack of the kind of guitar workouts that fans of Clark’s golden era (2011-2014) might have expected.

The opener Hell Is Near is psychedelic folk rock, elevated just like everything else Clark touches by her incredible emotive and evocative vocals. There are moments here that remind you just how unique and impressive those vocal talents are, and the more restrained passages of the song really serve to put them right in focus. Reckless is dark, gothic melodrama that bears similarities to PJ Harvey or Chelsea Wolfe, at least until its monolithic, claustrophobic crescendo. To be only two songs in and have demonstrated this much creativity is staggering. Broken Man is a seductive homage to The Downward Spiral Era Nine Inch Nails, with its industrial edge and breathy sexuality, while Flea is an utterly acceptable prog rock cut that makes a big deal about the drums, which happen to be played by (checks notes) Foo Fighters‘ Dave Grohl, who is featured throughout the album. Four tracks, four styles.

Big Time Nothing is a playful update on the kind of plastic funk that you’d have found Peter Gabriel or his former bandmates Genesis peddling towards the end of the ’80s. It’s probably her favourite song on the album (the not-so-subtle nod of the title gives it away slightly, Annie). Violent Times sounds like a Bond soundtrack if Bond were played by Nick Nolte in 1992. It’s muscular, dark and wonderful. The Power’s Out then leans heavily on David Bowie‘s Five Years, but turns it into a David Lynch nightmare by the end. Both of these tracks are excellent for completely different reasons, and both bear testament to Clark’s endless creativity. The closing triptych of Sweetest Fruit (a tribute to the late SOPHIE), So Many Planets and the title track (which features Cate Le Bon) offer more alternating ideas and rabbit holes (the title track threatens more Pink Floyd indulgence), but ultimately confirm what you knew by the end of the first half of the album.

This is a restless, mercurial, kaleidoscopic record that will really alienate some yet completely bewitch the rest. For the first time in her career, Annie Clark seems to have abandoned the ‘grand ideas’, the album concepts, the devotion to a new theme or style for each album, and has just made an album for the sake of the art. Whether the stylistic digressions work for you or not is immaterial really, because they’re impressive no matter what your expectations were.


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