For all the hand-wringing about rock’s demise in the early aughts (and the absurd pressure on unassuming post-punk revivalists like The Strokes and The White Stripes to save it), come the ‘10s, rock ‘n roll had disappeared from the charts and nobody seemed all that bothered. Gen Z has fully moved on, but it was us millennials who relegated rock to its current niche status.
Still, a handful of millennials have found a few drops left to squeeze from the increasingly stagnant genre – foremost among them Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent. She toured as a guitarist with Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens before releasing her debut album in 2007, and each subsequent record has further established St. Vincent as rightful heir to the Bowie/Bush/Byrne art-rock legacy.
While St. Vincent’s popularity didn’t peak until her self-titled 2014 record (thanks in part to a memorable performance on SNL that baffled the uninitiated public) and its glammy 2017 follow-up Masseduction, I still consider her 2011 effort Strange Mercy to be her finest to date. It’s her most consistent LP from beginning to end, and the last time her guitar wizardry took the front seat.
“Surgeon” is a standout, with its ghostly intro echoing the hook from “You Only Live Twice” and an unsettling, Marilyn Monroe-quoting mantra “best, finest surgeon / come cut me open” serving as the chorus. But the main draw, of course, is the guitar. Boy can Annie play that guitar.