St. Vincent’s fifth herself album MASSEDUCTION, which was cheekily and/or arrogantly touted as a “masterpiece” by her own social media posts, damn near is. A low-hanging satire of a mainstream pop album which is also—guess what—a fully-dysfunctional mainstream pop album. Think Taylor Swift except good. As in snap-crackle pop synths, runway hip-jerk drum machines, and high-gloss fashion mag, pink-vinyl-perfume-sample Jack Antonoff production. There’s charm, kink, deep take subtext, joke take giveaways, Actual-Woman-Bowie swagger (a boring observation at this point), that special food-sick, suspended in empty-elevator sadness you feel whenever she’s in town, and carefully re- and re-written lyrics sung by a heavenly angel from Hell with her tongue in her cheek and all over everything dripping-wet else, and you, too. Scored with edgy cinematic cues and the patently unnatural riffs of that guitar she designed and built herself just to show off. Plus!—it’s still got all that wonderfully cheesy Taylor Swift stuff! Like talking over the music in that flirty, cornball voice when she needs to shut up and sing, and moaning the hook of the title track over and over and over like an electrifried barbershop quartet of Shirley Mansons at an Eyes Wide Shut orgy.

The vinyl special edition’s creative direction and package design, credited to Willo Perron & Associates and NONOT, respectively (though I’d bet donuts to pesos Annie herself had at least one of her devilish little fingers stuck pretty deep into all those hot mess pies), are an intentionally blinding technicolor blimp explosion of color theory no-nos and mean-spirited graphic design jokes. You are supposed to hate what you’re looking at. But tucking her audience into a smallpox Snuggie while screwing in a Hello Kitty nightlight has always been the fattest trick pony in St. Vincent’s bottomless, yellow carpet bag of fat, sadistic trick ponies.

Here’s a gasser: “Color vibration” is a fancy art school term for awfully specific awful colors that should always be kept far, farther, and farthest away from each other because when they touch, they act as a binary liquid!—igniting an endless chain of white-hot penetrating blasts inside your skull which judiciously beat your lightning rod eyeball asses into drooling, helpless seizure salad submission down into a quivering ball at the center of an active minefield. The entire book is full of probably-wonderful lyrics and liner notes I absolutely cannot physically read. I’ve tried everything. Glasses on, glasses off, eyes real big, far away, better lighting, up close, squinting, left eye glasses right eye through a cheese cloth, worse lighting, in a mirror, give up now you will never read a single vibrating word. But it looks fantastic!

She makes a bright point: If you fancy yourself one of these digital music freaks who insist music’s physical artifacts belong six feet down, you’re willingly pooping half your own party, because her perky, bespandexed rosy ass is plastered all over I mean goddam everything.

(Editor’s note: Just found out it’s actually cover model Carlotta Kohl’s bespandexed ass, but if you squint your brain—to print a Linnellism that fits—the false ass eagerly greases the wheels of its own seamless transformation into whose ass we were dying for it to be’s ass the whole time.)

Which would equal the same justifiable means used to meet a similar tight, pink end by any other female popstar’s shameless sex salesmanship, but this is St. Vincent, which means the rest of her is bent over and stuffing her entire head and right arm into red-butcher-paper-covered holes in some kinda also-red wall structure that doesn’t really even exist except for the holes. Of course it’s hot. But of course, it’s also hilarious, disturbing, perfect, messy, comforting, depressed, manic, approachable, confusing, real, enlightening, fake, filthy, spooky, horny, goofy, immorally nonsexual and purely pornographic as fuck. Because if you want to seduce the masses, you gotta know how to scratch every last weird little itchy fetish they make.

(…Also, the spandex is red. A slightly different red. And everything else is also a slightly different red. The kinds of slightly different reds where if you printed the entire collection of almost the same reds on a black and white printer, the album cover would look like a flat, grayish soup of indistinguishable soupy grey blobs with just a taste of darker-value jungle cat leotard. In the paradise of my imagination, Annie accidentally turned on the television some morning and happened to catch The Price Is Right just as some poor, frantic old woman was stuffing her hands inside the paper-covered holes of that game where you stuff your hands into paper holes and pull out fistfuls of cash and gross patio furniture, and that’s where she got the idea. Probably not. I don’t think we’re dealing with a lady who accidentally does anything.)

HANG ON ME — The kind of opening track that gets you into a bunch of sexy trouble later on with a coy little beckoning steam finger snaking out of a hot cartoon windowsill pie. “You and me / we’re not meant for this world”—It’s a tender line, but I’m having a hard time imagining who she’s talking to with that kind of sincerity because who else in the Hell in our world has was it takes to belong in Annie’s? Oh, right. Cara Delevingne. Probably not that literal, but I just cannot suspend my disbelief that she’s talking to anybody else…maybe you seen these two perfect weirdos together?

(Editor’s note: Just found out they broke up? Who knows! And…who cares, I guess, because it was probably just about McCartney’s dog the whole time anyway. Every morpheme of this parenthetical is a massive turn-off.)

PILLS — Who walks down stairs without a care and makes the happiest sound? Everyone knows it’s Slainty! If this track sounds exactly like those deceptively simple, deviously infectious parasitic earworm jingles they snuck into every TV dinner and soap commercial from the 1950s, it’s because it was written that way on purpose by a woman who could comfortably abandon her music career to write hilarious, pitch-black dystopian sci-fi novels that would no doubt and pretty quickly replace Bradbury’s in every schoolroom in the English-speaking world. Then the extended release releases, and suddenly you’re somewhere near the panic and vomit of “Paranoid Android”’s most touching arrangement, which is punctuated by a perfect sax landing a perfect major ninth, which has always been the preferred note of chords hoping to sound like falling sweetly into sugar-plumbed slumber on Christmas Eve. Good to the last drop!

MASSEDUCTION — The Swiftiest and smarmiest of the lot. Try to imagine if Weird Al wrote a brilliant parody of a song that hadn’t been written yet, and then somebody did actually write the real song, but it instantly failed flat to achieve the razor’s edge, smarty-pants insight of the parody, which was never really a parody at all, because it’s got some real stuff to say. And said stuff is said by a smoking-hot Japanese lap dance robot who went to a good college. Bonus Shirley Manson points for changing “Masseduction” to “Mass destruction” at the very end of the song. Pretty sneaky, sis! Bonus ELO points for borrowing* Jeff Lynne’s “Don’t Bring Me Down” ooh-eh-ohs.

*Flat-out fucking stealing.

SUGARBOY — Boy, I don’t know, shug…there’s some kooky garbage goin’ down on this one. Some pretty kooky, pretty Garbagey strobe-lit Gameboy garbage goin’ on here for sure. Cute and sticky and squeaky like a squeaky little slobbery dog toy. Or sex toy? “Who knows!” (A tagline which has become the bullseye of Clark’s theatre.) Bonus extra bonus Shirley Manson points for shouting “boys” and “girls” over and over. Except not at the apex of a fake orgasm like she did it. Here they’re barked, not sung, and sound like the unreasonable demands of an indecisive pervert. Not for children. Or anyone. NOT for epileptics. Or children.

LOS AGELESS — Read it again, jagoff! Because you don’t want to say it wrong in front of her and look like a stupid asshole. Like me, the first twelve times I read it. Pretty sure this one’s not a metaphor. I think St. Vincent genuinely hates this town as much as I do, and I’ve never even been there. Featuring the cumulatively delicious Fly-Swallowing-Old-Lady lyrics, “How could anybody have you? / How could anybody have you and lose you? / How could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their minds too?” It’s a goddam decadent way to whine about plastic surgery and the miserable infinity of surfing vampires set to the kind of patty-melt-lazy groove you’d hear over a slow-mo flashbulb entourage montage of dogs wearing designer sunglasses, helicopter searchlights, and jacked-up purple convertibles cruising down some infamous LA thoroughfare I just can’t think of and refuse to google right now because if I accidentally see the photo of those D-bag professional rollerbladers whizzing past a line of palm trees on their way to Darque Tan, I’m just gonna blow my fine, Santa Monica. OK? There. I just remembered a famous street in LA without having to google anything. Crisis averted, next song.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHNNY — If the “slow song” from every Broadway musical you ever sat through—where the guy looks tearfully up into the lone spotlight with the huge, wide-open too-dumb-to-give-up orphan eyes, and doing all the absurd five-year-old’s birthday party Barney gesticulations like his hands were the hammy NBC’s “The More You Know” logo soaring over his own body—were actually another meaningful chapter in the life of St. Vincent’s own personal Major Tom with a bunch of smokey pedal steel in there!

SAVIOR — Flirty wah-wah guitar candy, bad-to-the-broken-bone T-Rex impact tremors, and the sort of overtly mawkish (but covertly evil), jigsawed rhyme scheme lyrics you’d expect to find written upside down in tiny print at the bottom of a mystery called “Why Did Stephen Sondheim Just Suddenly Need To Change His Pants?” And obviously a bunch of doomsday commentary bemoaning the changing climate. Of pornography.

(Editor’s note: You’re probably familiar with the widely-held delusion that the internet boasts every gross flavor of super-specific porn your sick brain could ever dream up, right?Wrong! Because none of the sex is sexy. Which is the point of the song.

…But if you’re in the market for, say—Afterschool step-girl incest! Butt stuff! Potentially pretty sexy sex scenes tainted by the substitution of all the super sexy sex scene screaming sounds with LOUD! 1970s prog-funk-blues-rock-shreddy-roadhouse-cowbell white trash boner poison! Why? Because porn’s key demo exists in the perpetual impotence of a red pill side-effect stupor, and they just can’t get hard without Skynyrd! And who could forget the phoned-in camgirls explaining every boring, step-by-step IKEA tech spec of a pretty simple mechanical procedure they somehow think I’ve never fucking done before myself and need help with! But no, lady, you’re absolutely right. Why would I want to hear you tell me about all the filthy ancient Hindu things I should do to your perfect, college body, when you could simply instruct me to do only ONE remarkably disappointing thing to my very own gross body! Which—I assure you! I don’t need any help with! Because I’m already doing it right now in real life! What dumb asshole fantasizes about a depressing reality?!

Some of that might be tangential to the song.)

There are so many necessary things happening at once on this one song that a dump truck armada of social media hyperbole could never exaggerate to my satisfaction the distance that will forever separate my gasping, pathetic brain from the music and lyrics of this three-minute meaning of life. It’s a shame some artists make art so perfect that nobody but them will ever be able to catch up to its perfection.

NEW YORK — As George Carlin was once flamboyantly misquoted by me right now, “There’s about a billion ways to say “fuck,” and they’re all pretty fantastic.” This song perfectly demonstrates how to say it in that way where you’re like a pretty big star with maybe some clout and the kinda swing where you can go on Colbert or somebody and you’re telling like a pretty heartfelt story about accidentally meeting for the first time and getting to shake hands with your childhood hero Rue McClanahan when both of you were reaching for the same funnel cake at a zoo the day before she died, and then you start crying real celebrity tears, which is how people know when celebrities are serious, and then probably you say something like, with y’know, like with all the sober gravity of some lucky bastard who’s literally skin-on-twisted, frozen-metal touching some actual Titanic wreckage they mere hours ago just pulled up just so one person could briefly touch it right before they threw it back in the ocean, because they won like a contest or made a big donation to some popular Democrat’s global warming research, right, so you choke up and mutter something like “Fuck me, I love me some fuckin’ Golden Girls,” while staring off into wispy nothing and shaking your head real slow like. And Colbert doesn’t even bleep it out because it was such a great story and it just needed to be said, y’know? So like that, except without all the bullshit nonsense I just made up, because it’s actually a very warm, very sincere, very possibly about 9/11? piano ballad love letter to a city she was probably longing to return home to while she was maybe stuck in a hot, plasticy-smelling terminal at LAX writing her hate letter to Los Angeles? I MEAN LOS—fuck. Los Ageless.

FEAR THE FUTURE — Lyrically, not that funny. Which is perfect. Because it took Arcade Fire the eternity of their undefrostable “funny satire” album to get to the point they never actually made because they were trying so hard to be funny. Clark snatches the rebound with eloquence to sell, and makes deft work of their lost point for them, plus a few of her own sharper points, all with just one song, and never tries hard to anything. Because she just is anything. And everything. Now. (Arcade Fire are an awful lot of charming and wonderful things, but none of those things have ever been a functional sense of humor.) Sonically, it’s a choppy-up, jerky kinda guitar march with a post-nightmare, pre-clarity Robitussin finish.

YOUNG LOVER — “How long has this been goin’ on?” she asks, on what I’d sure believe was a Strange Mercy B-side if she told me it was. (The 1974 Eaglesy hit you’re remembering only the chorus of right now is by some band called Ace. Not the Eagles. Yes, I had to google it.) This song is either about Romeo & Juliet or some other less-specific failed suicide pact situation. It might be much sadder and more personal than that. (Annie makes it up to Arcade Fire for running circles around Everything Now by borrowing their patented “thumping kick drum quarter note” click track routine. Which I think was a patent filed by U2? Who knows!)

DANCING WITH A GHOST (SLOW DISCO INTERLUDE)/SLOW DISCO — Mother of God, she sounds like Bowie on this one. A perfect kind of falling action, gingery palette cleanser before Smoking Section’s dénouement snuffs out the album. It’s mostly set to the same four chords she paints in “The Strangers” (which sound suspiciously like the Pixies’ “Debaser”), but don’t worry because it’s got this totally heartbreaking new sauce all over it and you won’t even notice. Lovely not sappy, weepy not sad, and featuring the always creepy pitch-shifted vocals, like on Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young.” (Except, and I say this with all due presidential impetuousness, somebody needs to FUCK VAMPIRE WEEKEND straight into the cornfield.)

SMOKING SECTION — Ending a song with an ending, and I mean like the ending at the end of the ending song at the end of this record, ending an end song like that with the ending, “It’s not the end / It’s not the end / It’s not the end / It’s not the end” might be mistaken for another one of Annie Clark’s clever jokes. And it is. Like when Radiohead end King Of Limbs with “If you think this is over then you’re wrong.” Which is delightful coming from Thom Yorke, but here we get to watch it take off all its stuffy work syntax and slip into something a little more sexier and streamlined, which often equals “funnier!” But also it’s not a joke at all because it’s pretty crystal clearly about suicide too.

(Editor’s note: When my brain tries to organize and remember sound waves, it isolates similarities to reduce clutter. Detailed memories are formed of unique sounds, unreliable memories are formed of similar ones. When I listen to a new record, my brain quickly generates visual tags which are tied to the sound of a song, which I can later access to remember what the song feels and sounds like when I’m not listening to it, or before I’ve got it memorized. The image tags may look like shapes, fabric, lines, textures, smoke, space, colors and values, temperature and weight, geometrical patterns, glitter, cotton, and stuff that may overlap or intersect and often float around, but only with themselves, not with the other image tags. (Unless I’m listening to Dark Side Of The Moon, then they all bleed together and it’s a nightmare.)

The sounds of MASSEDUCTION line up pretty standard, with the images following the left-to-right forward flow of time, which moves the record clockwise until it ends. After listening to this album five times, I’d say roughly three quarters the songs emerge in my memory as pretty unique visual abstractions I can quickly identify. I instantly remember “Pills”. It’s my favorite song on the album because it resonates with many of my own interests. Violent cartoons, hateful sarcasm, egregious advertising, obsession melodies, prescription drugs, future dystopias, gallows humor, dissonance for every sense, I really don’t even need the picture. I’m soaking in it. It’s catchy!)

A few of these songs grey together like all those slightly different shades of red. It happens. But knowing her as well as she permits, not by accident. The eye in the ear in your brain needs somewhere to sit down and rest sometimes during a grand adventure. And be still! For a second. Still and away from, just for a second, the warm, vibrating hum of whatever terrible, beautiful trick St. Vincent’s got hidden under the false bottom of her sock drawer. “Who knows!”