Strange Mercy is not an instant favorite. But with a little cozying up, St. Vincent’s third album will seduce listeners into a melancholic love affair. With her latest effort, timid-voiced singer-songwriter Annie Clark offers another dose of mildly catchy melodies laced with ear-perking beats and sensual guitar riffs.
Clark’s vocals are thin and soft, her melodies accessibly understated. Lyrically, her songs are rarely poignant or relatable, and for the most part unimpressive. The initial attraction to her music lies in the orchestra of beats and inspired guitar playing that accompany her singing. Clark’s beats transcend beyond backup as she incorporates them into her compositions as a stand alone element, interacting with them vocally as if collaborating with another member of the band. One of her best results is the cheerily danceable “Cruel,” which weaves together layers of rhythmic patterns into an elaborate electronic chorus.
Unfortunately, in “Cruel” and other songs on Strange Mercy, Clark’s accompaniment overpowers her delicate vocals, similar to the way her curly bob overpowers her fragile features when it gets too large. She hasn’t quite figured out how to frame her assets in a more flattering way. A few of her slower songs do, however, manage to capture a pleasing balance. In “Dilettante,” Clark puts an extra oomph into her smooth serenade with surges of heavy guitar riffs while also highlighting her vocals with standout verses like “Wake up Avenue C / your hometown is still sleeping.”
Despite the album’s weaknesses, Clark’s sinuous charm will grow on listeners, leaving them convinced that its flaws are merely the quirks of an irresistible old lover. Fans of her past albums will be neither surprised nor disappointed by what she has returned with.