By Sean Hannah (@Shun_Handsome)
St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is not a New York native; she was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, moved to Dallas, Texas as a child, and transplanted to The City in her 20s. Yet on New York, her first single in two years and a harbinger of the forthcoming album Clark has declared “the deepest, boldest work [she’s] ever done,” St. Vincent name checks some of the city’s touchstones with the ambivalence only a real New Yorker can feel.
On 1st Avenue, Clark called out to her errant lover, now departed. On 8th Avenue, she “last-strawed” the motherfucker. And swinging by Astor Place, she realizes she’s lost most of her friends too, having abandoned them to go rub elbows with the city’s “blue bloods”. This isn’t a love letter to the Greatest City on Earth, New York instead serves to remind us that the overcrowded cities are just as lonely as the underpopulated ones. Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, but Annie’s mousy vulnerability brings a fresh take on an old truism.
St. Vincent has never been one to shy away from sentimentality. She’s evinced a Buddy Holly-level dedication to her paramours in songs all throughout her oeuvre, whether she’s playing the heathen who chooses romantic love over spiritual salvation in I Prefer Your Love or the pugnacious girlfriend ready to butt heads with the corrupt cop who thrashed her Other Half on Strange Mercy. This is where much of New York’s tension emanates: the unfettered adoration she feels for her lover and the remorse over his/her absence is complicated by the grandiosity of the city and Clark’s increasing disillusionment toward her adoptive home town. Here on New York, romantic and metropolitan life are two entities constantly at odds with one another.
Musically, however, the song feels more like a re-tread than a step forward. Featuring a closely-mic’d piano and a supportive, if unobtrusive, string section, New York would feel at home on St. Vincent’s debut Marry Me if not for the inclusion of a pulsating tom drum beat and scant synth characteristic of her most recent, self-titled record. This kind of self-reflexivity is fitting of the song’s reminiscent lyrical tone, but as an amuse-bouche to an album purported by Clark herself to be a “sea change” from her previous work, the single doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.
Still, New York is a solid entry into the St. Vincent canon: it’s a warm, staid track with enough going on musically and lyrically to keep the listener enthralled. Annie’s words are certainly catchy (“New York isn’t New York without you, love”) and the Illinois-era Sufjan-esque bridge injects some crucial dynamics into the tune. And even though St. Vincent uses it as a backdrop for dilapidating friendships and relationships, there remains something wholly intoxicating about the city of New York in the song. As Joey Ramone once sang, “New York City really has it all!”