I stayed home sick from my day job today. It was one of those awful colds that comes with a lingering headache, constant coughing, and a nose that runs like the Energizer bunny.
And, since I started the day popping pills of acetaminophen, I figured that St. Vincent’s “Pills” would make for an appropriate Song of the Day. While I didn’t take part in the kinds of pills she sings about, I still felt an ounce of solidarity when listening to this song, popping Tylenol like Pez candy.
“Pills” is the second track from St. Vincent’s fifth studio album, “MASSEDUCTION”, released in 2017. Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend her performance when she came to Indianapolis at the Old National Centre. It was my first real taste of “MASSEDUCTION”, and after the show I listened to the album on repeat for a whole week. It really is that good.
“MASSEDUCTION” is full of themes of addiction, depression, hope, and you guessed it, seduction. “Pills” is no exception to this, but its themes are split neatly in half, when the song makes a drastic, tonal change.
The beginning of “Pills” starts with an almost nursery-rhyme. “Pills to wake, pills to sleep / Pills, pills, pills every day of the week / Pills to walk, pills to think / Pills, pills, pills for the family”. These lines are repeated in the chorus with different variations.
In the verses, St. Vincent launches into a more personal narrative describing her year having trouble sleeping and taking sleeping pills. “This song is super personal for me, a little snapshot of a small period of my life”.
“I spent a year suspended in air / My mind on the gap, my head on the stairs / From healers to dealers and then back again / From guru to voodoo and voodoo to zen”.
The first half of the song is a hyper, driving, banger. Sounwave, the same producer behind Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN”, put together the heavy drum track. The energy keeps building with a distorted guitar solo that cuts through the sound, and bombastic horns accompanying the following verse.
The second half of the song cuts off the tension completely, and builds into a gradual, repeated refrain. In these last two minutes, the theme of drug use falls away, and is replaced by a hopeful plea.
“Come all you wasted, wretched, and scorned / Come watch me standin’ under the wall / Come all you children, come out to play / Everyone you love will all go away”.
Maybe we can view this shift as a comedown from the pills that dominated the first half. Here, St. Vincent seems to be addressing everyone, and the pain we all experience from life, in an invitation to join the world, rather than hiding in their holes with their pills. It might be a bit of a stretch, but doesn’t seem too off base to me.
If you haven’t heard “Pills”, or any other songs from St. Vincent’s “MASSEDUCTION”, I strongly urge you to give it a chance. You won’t be disappointed.