How to follow 2014’s remarkable self-titled fourth solo album? Well, at least initially, it would seem the key for Annie Clark is to emphasise cold, uninviting electronic patterns and challenge the listener to come along for the ride. Add in the disastrous ‘deluxe’ vinyl edition being so noisy that initial listens were a masochistic exercise in anticipating pops and clicks rather than absorbing the songs and my early conclusions were that ‘Masseduction’ was a mis-fire and it wasn’t going to become a favourite. Nudge along a few months and everything has changed. Figuring that it had been poorly served by a PVC-housed mangling at the hands of everybody’s favourite Czech pressing plant, I actually turned to digital listening to give it a fair crack. And then the melodies opened up, the quality seemed obvious and hasty assumptions were torn up.
Early teaser track ‘New York’ is truly magnificent, the stunning bridge of ‘I have lost a hero, I have lost a friend’ especially. That particular part of the track is a reference to David Bowie’s passing, it transpired, and pretty hard to detach from every listen once you know. The immediate brilliance of this song didn’t make it any easier for the rest of the album to assert itself, but there’s plenty to obsess over here. Jack Antonoff was recruited for production duties, having also worked with Taylor Swift and Lorde, and there are signs of pop mechanics at work, although it’s hard to be too cynical about an album that talks of “pills to fuck, pills to eat, pills, pills, pills down the kitchen sink.”
There is an air of gloom hanging over ‘Masseduction’ that was, presumably, another factor in it not initially clicking but, as ever, the songs – covering drugs, suicide and despair – are still resolutely memorable. Take closing track ‘Smoking Section’, for example, which features lines like “sometimes I go to the edge of my roof and I think I’ll jump just to punish you.” Its first ninety seconds or so feature an unusually low delivery for Clark and an uncharacteristically straight-laced backdrop. Naturally, it does deviate from this a little in the middle, but it’s a stark conclusion to an album that rarely retreats.
Opener ‘Hang On Me’ is cut from more conventional cloth and gives an early impression of safe ground that is quickly removed by the aforementioned ‘Pills’. The crunchy guitar, backing vocals and general thrust of the title track evoke thoughts of the Purple One, its central lyric “I can’t turn off what turns me on,” only adding to this. ‘Sugarboy’ is Donna Summer does LCD Soundsystem, or vice versa is probably more likely. ‘Los Ageless’ has a glorious chorus and beats that will threaten to re-write the rhythm of your pulse at high volumes.
Johnny’s back for ‘Happy Birthday, Johnny’, a recurring character who is getting a little meta now: “Annie, how could you do this to me?” It’s a gorgeous ballad that finishes on a sustained piano note before the minimal funk and earnest role play of ‘Savior’. ‘Young Lover’ is an endearing two-gear beast, with a chorus that sounds like somebody’s turned on the floodlights, while ‘Slow Disco’ is a curious, string-laden piece that shines but seems a little detached from this album’s world.
Whatever the block I had at the start, it has long since gone and ‘Masseduction’ is an album I find endlessly fascinating. I’m not always in the mood for it and it can sometimes be slightly annoying in its sonic attack, but when it catches me right, like winter sun on a faded wall, it provides a euphoric wash that is hard to beat.