Having spent time in the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ band, Annie Clark (who performs as St. Vincent) is a graduate of the Bigger is Better School of Music. But it seems that Clark’s instructors, especially Professor Stevens, failed to impart that even if she pastes a pretty, Disney-fied veneer all over a song, if that tune has nothing at its center, it turns out all artifice. Sure, Sufjan can at times sound embarrassingly like that goofy community orchestra from Waiting for Guffman, with oboe trills and trumpet flourishes, but then he’ll turn around and slay with a simple, heartfelt song like “Romulus.” Clark never seems able to strip away all the orchestration to show true emotion on Marry Me.
“Now. Now.” is packed with swirling guitars, Soft Bulletin-big drums, and Clark’s vocals looped on top of each other. But in all the other bigness, her voice is puny. Clark doesn’t seem to have any confidence in it, muffling it in a lot of warbling and vibrato, not going as full-throttle as she needs to at times. She definitely doesn’t have pipes on par with Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark or Electrelane’s Verity Sussman.
Clark brings things down on the album’s lounge-y title track, augmented by nice piano work from long-time Bowie collaborator Mike Garson. She shows flashes of the songwriting wit that helps lift the album, singing, “Let’s do what Mary and Joseph did/ without the kid.” “Human Racing” is light and breezy as well, almost Brazilian, Clark doing fun things with choppy phrasing a la Bebel Gilberto, being funny again with the line, “Juliet, how you been?/ You look like death.” And “We Put a Pearl into the Ground” is another of the album’s quiet successes, although it’s never a good thing for an artist who identifies as a singer-songwriter when one of their best tunes is an instrumental.
But elsewhere the album is swamped in size, all empty calories. “Paris Is Burning” attempts Leonard Cohen-like war reportage but over-orchestrates it. The hippie dippy B.S. of “All My Stars Aligned,” with references to amulets, charms, and rain dances, is just silly. “Jesus Saves. I Spend” doesn’t deliver on the promise of its witty title. And the album ends with Clark doing a paltry Judy Garland impression on “What, Me Worry.” She sings, “I’m always amused/ and amusing you.” Actually, Annie, you’re not nearly as amusing as you probably think you are.