There’s no denying that 2017’s MASSEDUCTION was St. Vincent’s most personal album (not be to be confused with her best) and her stripped-down piano-and-voice interpretation of that album, 2018’s Mass Education, is an attempt at self-exposure. What Mass Education loses sight of is that St. Vincent is an artist defined by her layers. Peeling them back, as she has here, doesn’t get to the essence of Annie Clark so much as it ignores the very thing that makes her who she is: layer upon layer. That is why she changes her image for each new album, putting on a costume that complements the vision. This stripped-down version (the cover art is literally Annie Clark stripped down) is just a version; there is no one true version.
That being said, the value of Mass Education is found in looking at the bones of her tunes and hearing the lyrics shine more clearly. This is the equivalent of MTV Unplugged Presents St. Vincent. It is an opportunity to see the artist’s brain at work, but other than a couple tracks—“Slow Dance” and “Happy Birthday, Johnny”—they are not necessarily improvements on the originally-released versions. Like Nine Inch Nails’ similar project Still, this is an album for when you want to listen to the artist, but want something quieter. For the Norah Jones set, this will undoubtedly be their favorite St. Vincent release, but in truth it is an appendix to be referred to, not the juiciest content.