Masseduction, released in 2017, is Annie Clark at her lyrical height. Released under art-rock’s favorite pseudonym, the St. Vincent album contains multitudes—the Nine Inch Nails-style synth of “Sugarboy,” the jarring pop of “Pills,” and the minimal piano of “Happy Birthday, Johnny.”
MassEducation strips away the bold and inventive production of Masseduction, leaving nothing but Clark’s voice and piano accompaniment. The album reframes all but one song from its 2017 predecessor, and the result feels incomparable to the original songs. The lyrics, now at the forefront of each track, are triple-distilled. The pleas of “Fear the Future” are no longer obscured by mountainous electric guitar and pulsing synths; they are laid bare over coursing piano, Clark’s vibrato getting an opportunity to run free.
“Fear the Future” doesn’t feel like a half-mixed acoustic version. It sounds like an entirely different song, whose lyrics drive into the listener in a deeper way. Similarly, “Los Ageless,” whose original version sounds like audible tension, doesn’t try to sound as angry and frustrated as the original. When Clark sings, “How could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind, too?,” it’s quiet and mournful. The song’s coda, originally shrouded in soaring, electric strings orchestrated by Jack Antonoff, is less jarring.
It seems clear from the outset that Clark wants this to be a different album through and through. The track listing omits “Dancing With a Ghost,” an instrumental interlude that lasts for less than a minute, and the album reorganizes in other ways, too. “Hang on Me,” Masseduction’s opening track, is pushed to the end of this iteration. Lyrically, it’s a fitting finale for an album that concerns itself with heartbreak and is laced with existential dread, a continuation of the heartbreak in “New York” and the palpable panic on “Fear the Future.”
“You and me, we’re not meant for this world,” Clark sings in lieu of farewell.
MassEducation neither improves on nor takes away from Masseduction. Where Masseduction was loud and layered, MassEducation is reserved and raw; Clark creates something new from these recycled songs, amplifying the overwrought lyrics and showcasing her voice like never before.