Album Review of "Masseduction" by St. Vincent


I Can't Turn Off What Turns Me On

Annie Clark says that the thesis for her new album as St. Vincent is "I can't turn off what turns me on." But what does that mean?

Genre: Pop

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Album Review Podcast - Show Notes
Masseduction by St. Vincent

Learn more about St. Vincent's Annie Clark, listen to Masseduction, and read additional reviews.

Listen to Masseduction


Album Review: Masseduction by St. Vincent
I Can't Turn Off What Turns Me On

This is a transcript of Ep. 13 of the What's This Album About? podcast - listen here

BOBBY: Hi everybody. Welcome to What’s This Album About?, the podcast that dives deep into the lyrics of today’s best songwriters. I’m Bobby Waller, the guy who’s usually the host of this show, but today we’re switching things up a bit. Today, I’m the co-host because you’re about to hear another voice. 

LINDA: Hello everybody, this is Linda. Bobby’s wife and creative producer and webmaster of What’s this Album About? 

BOBBY: Some of you may have noticed that whenever I talk about What’s This Album About? I sometimes use the term “we” and you may have been thinking, “Why ‘we’? I only hear one guy’s voice.’ Well actually, this is very much a team effort, so I’m very happy to have Linda here on the mic with us today. Thanks, Linda! 

LINDA: You’re welcome, Bobby. So we’re going to talk about the new album by singer-songwriter Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, called Masseduction. 

          ♪ Mass seduction
               Mass seduction.

BOBBY: I think this song is a good place to begin discerning the meaning behind this album because it’s the title track. It’s track number three and it’s called Masseduction. So I think there’s a bit of social commentary going on here about the culture where we live where we’re constantly being hyped to buy a product or to listen to some music or to buy into a political message. But I actually came to think that there’s more to this album than that. 

LINDA: Agreed. 

BOBBY: So Linda, what would be your elevator speech synopsis of this album? 

LINDA: I think this album is about the problem of drug addiction, both from the point of view of the addict and those who are trying to help them. 

BOBBY: Hmm. I don’t think I would have gone there, but now that you mention it, you may have a point. Let’s look into this a little deeper. 

          ♪ Mass seduction
               I can’t turn off what turns me on
               Mass seduction
               I can’t turn off what turns me on

BOBBY: She says “mass seduction, I can’t turn off what turns me on” and in interviews she has said that that is the thesis statement for this album. 

LINDA: I think she’s talking about being out of control. 

BOBBY: Okay, I’d buy that. And I think putting it that way, being out of control applies equally to your spin and my spin because clearly, when you’re addicted to drugs, you’re out of control. But I also think there’s an idea going on here that this culture of mass seduction is beyond our control. 

LINDA: And that point is really clear in the song “Los Ageless.” Okay, so let’s give that a little bit of a listen and let’s start with the two opening lines because I think those are really brilliant. 

          ♪ In Los Ageless the winter never come
               In Los Ageless the mothers milk their young

BOBBY: Okay, so clearly, “Los Ageless” is a play on Los Angeles, one of the capitols of our culture of mass seduction. And I think that line about winter never coming to Los Ageless is clever because Los Angeles is always warm…

LINDA: But metaphorically nothing ever ages or dies. And I didn’t get the line about “mothers milk their young” until you said something about stage moms. And then it totally made sense. 

BOBBY: Yeah, right because stage moms are milking their young. It’s too late for the stage moms themselves to become movie stars, but maybe their kids can. And your point about nothing ever dying in Los Ageless is a good one because nothing is ever allowed to die there, it’s a go-go-go kind of town. 

LINDA: And that’s a good segue into talking about my favorite song on this album: "Pills."

BOBBY: Let’s listen to the beginning of that one, too: 

          ♪ Pills to wake, pills to sleep
              Pills, pills every day of the week
              Pills to walk, pills to think
              Pills for the family
              Pills for the family, I love that. 

LINDA: Oh yeah! We give our kids vitamins and supplements and ADD medication, all kinds of stuff. 

BOBBY: In the culture of mass seduction, things are going fast all the time, faster than our bodies can naturally keep up with and so, a little bit of supplementation seems necessary sometimes. 

LINDA; But going back to my thesis about this album being about addiction, I think “Pills” illustrates the problem behind addiction. We think that there’s a pill to solve every problem that we have. 

BOBBY: Right, and I want to be clear and I’m not saying that Annie is saying “hurray for pills.” She’s clearly being pretty critical of this culture of pill popping and I want to add that she has stated in interviews that this song is autobiographical in nature. It’s about her real-life experience with sleeping pills. 

LINDA: And she has said that this is her most personal album to date. 

BOBBY: And that’s what ultimately led me to question my original idea that this is an album of social commentary because the more I listen to it, the more I realize that this is a very personal album about things that have happened in her private life. 

LINDA: And that’s very apparent on the song “New York.” 

BOBBY: Yeah, so this album has three singles. We’ve looked at two of them already. We looked at “Los Ageless” and “Pills” and both of those I think really you could say they’re social commentary. But the third single is “New York” and it seems to be much more personal. 

LINDA: Lets give it a listen. 

          ♪ You’re the only mother fucker in the city who can stand me. 
              I have lost a hero
              I have lost a friend
              But for you, darling
              I’d do it all again

LINDA: So the big theme about this song is loss. She’s lost a hero. She’s lost a friend. And that theme of loss is evident in every single song in this album. 

BOBBY: You are definitely right about that. So let’s look at another song and Linda, can you think of a song that would illustrate your point here about loss and maybe also start taking us in the direction of your spin about drug addiction. 

LINDA: That would have to be the song “Happy Birthday, Johnny.” 

BOBBY: Track 6. It starts like this. 

          ♪ Remember one Christmas
              I gave you Jim Carroll, 
              Intended it as a cautionary tale
              What’s going on there? 

LINDA: Jim Carroll is the author of Basketball Diaries, if you remember, that’s a movie about a young kid growing up in New York, severely addicted to heroin. It’s about what his life was like. And she hoped it would help her friend, Johnny, who obviously is suffering from some kind of addiction and is experiencing hard times. 

BOBBY: So let’s listen to a clip that tells a little bit about those hard times. 

          ♪ The last time you called it was on New Year’s Eve
              You asked me for dough to get something to eat
              Since we last spoke, you live on the street
              Yeah, I wouldn’t believe that you’ve seen

BOBBY: It sounds like Johnny’s homeless. 

LINDA: Yes, and Annie’s response to his request for help is “Let me think.” 

          ♪ When I said, “Let me think”
              And you yelled through your teeth

BOBBY: And that doesn’t go over too well. 

LINDA: No, because here’s how he replies. 

          ♪ Always for show
              No true charity

BOBBY: Oh, that’s gotta hurt. He asks for help and she says “Let me think” and he goes straight to “You don’t really have any charity. It’s just for show.” 

LINDA: Yeah, and he even goes as far as to say, “Annie how could you do this to me?" implying that she might be responsible for his addiction. And in the end, she’s at a loss of words. She’s as a loss of solutions. She can’t help him. All she can do is give him a kind word. 

          ♪ When you get free, Johnny
               I hope you find peace

LINDA: In other words, it’s your responsibility to fix this problem. When YOU get free, I hope you find peace. 

BOBBY: You’re making me think of the song “Savior” which I think is a similar message. 

          ♪ You dress me up
                In a nurse’s outfit
                It rides and sticks
                To my thighs and my hips

BOBBY: This is a song that is, at least ostensibly, about sexual role play. She dresses up as a nurse. She dresses up as a teacher. She dresses up as a nun. She dresses up as a cop. But I get the impression that the purpose of this song is not really to titillate. 

LINDA: Exactly. What I got from it was that line that says, “I got ‘em trying to save the world.” So the nurse, the teacher, the nun, the cop, these are all symbols of authority in our culture and none of these are saving us from this problem of addiction.  She seems to be saying that people aren’t good at helping other people get over an addiction. 

BOBBY: Hence the line, “I’m not your savior.” 

LINDA: Right. 

BOBBY: This album’s pretty dark and hopeless in a lot of ways. 

LINDA: This is the last song, “Smoking Section” and here’s how it starts.

          ♪ Sometimes I sit
                In the smoking section
                Hoping one rogue spark
                Will land in my direction
                And when you stomp me out
                I scream and I’ll shout
                Let it happen
                Let it happen
                Let it happen

BOBBY: This is pretty somber. She’s got a death wish. She’s hoping to catch on fire and if she does, she’s just going to let it happen. There’s a real sense of helplessness here, of being caught up in something that’s got so much control over you, you would just rather end it all. 

          ♪ Sometimes I go
                To the edge of my roof
                And I think I’ll jump
                Just to punish you
                And if I should float
                On the taxis below
                No one would notice
                No one would know

LINDA: I love that she references a taxi in this song because throughout this album Annie Clark has used the literary device of a vehicle as a representation of being out of control. For example, in the first song, “Hang On Me,” 

          ♪ I cannot stop the taxi cab from crashing

BOBBY: She talks about being in a taxi that’s about to crash and an airplane that about to crash. 

          ♪ I cannot stop the airplane from crashing

LINDA: And in the song “Los Ageles,” even when she’s the driver, she’s behind the hood of her car, this is what she has to say: 

          ♪  In Los Ageless the waves they never break
                They build and build until you don’t have no escape
                But how can I leave
                I just follow my hood to the sea

BOBBY: So lots of images of being out of control in a vehicle and I’m glad you mentioned the water as well because there are also a lot of images in this album of being out of control in water. 

          ♪ In Los Ageless the waves they never break

LINDA: In “Los Ageless,” she talks about the waves that never break, they just keep going and have so much momentum she can’t control it. And in “Pills,” she says “I can’t even swim in these waves I’ve made.” And I think it’s interesting to note that it says she made the waves. Throughout this album, she acknowledges the part that she is playing in this culture of mass seduction. She’s going right along with it, even though she can’t really control it. But she does also seem to suggest that on some level she loves it because as she said, the thesis for the whole album is: 

          ♪ I can’t turn off what turns me on

BOBBY: And that ties back into the idea of addiction. You just can’t turn it off. 

LINDA: And it turns you on. It feels good even if it’s bad for you. 

BOBBY: Okay, let’s get back to the last few lines of “Smoking Section.” 

LINDA: Yeah, let’s wrap this up. She asks a question at the end and I want to get your take on it. Let’s give it a listen: 

          ♪ What could be better than love, than love, than love? 

BOBBY: So my question to you, Linda, is this the glimmer of hope that she’s giving us at the end of this otherwise pretty dark album. Is she saying, “Is love what’s going to save us.”

LINDA: By asking the question, she is saying that there’s a possibility that there’s something better than love. For an addict, that would be the drug, whatever that is. 

BOBBY: That is pretty grim. So love isn’t going to save us, so the best thing we can hope for is that fix. You’ve really made me come around to buying this idea about addiction, there’s certainly a lot about drugs on this album. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s the central idea of the whole album. But I would say that we could talk about addiction, not only terms of drugs, but being addicted to whatever that is that’s your fix, which may even include this culture of mass seduction that we live in. And now, let’s listen to the very last line: 

          ♪ It’s not the end
               It’s not the end

BOBBY: She repeats over and over again, “It’s not the end.” What does that mean to you? 

LINDA: I think this problem of being out of control and addicted is going to continue until we do figure out something that is “better than love.” 

BOBBY: So there’s more of this suffering to come. 

LINDA: What a happy message! 

BOBBY: Well, on that note, I will say I originally wanted that last line to mean it’s not time to kill myself because she’s talking about killing herself in this song and I wanted “It’s not the end” to mean,  “It’s not that time. I’m not going to kill myself. You know, maybe I’ll resolve this.” And I actually think that St. Vincent does write in a way that on purpose can be interpreted in multiple ways. And maybe that’s in there. Just maybe. But I am also definitely coming around to your point that she means it in the sense that more suffering really is to come. 

LINDA: You could read a lot of different things into it. She leaves it vague enough to where you could do that. 

BOBBY: Yeah. I think that she’s a person who really values independent thinking and she’s not going to just give us all the answers. She actually on purpose wants us to come up with some of the answers on our own. 

LINDA: I think that she really does want us to dig deep into these lyrics and it is a joy to do that. I’ve really had a good time looking at this album with you, Bobby. 

BOBBY: And Linda, thank you for being here. Congratulations on your on-mic debut. 

LINDA: Woot woot! 

BOBBY: That’s it then. Let us know what you think about this little experiment of having a co-host. Is it something that we should do every one in a while just to mix things up? Is it something we should do all the time? Is it something we should never do again? We want to hear from you. 

LINDA: So go to our website, and let us know. 

BOBBY: Until next time, I’m Bobby Waller,

LINDA: and I’m Linda Easton,

BOBBY: reminding you NOT to kill yourself and to keep your ears open because the more you listen…

LINDA: the more you listen, the more you love.