• Singled Out

‘Surgeon’ Slices Open St. Vincent

written by: on February 9, 2012

Twenty-eight-year-old Dallas native Annie Clark is a pixie dream-girl with a razor-sharp edge (think Snow White on a murderous, drug-induced rampage). Under the moniker St. Vincent, she has released three studio albums in the past five years (2007’s Marry Me, 2009’s Actor and 2011’s Strange Mercy) that have arrested the hearts of audiences and critics.

Her latest record, the phantasmagoric Strange Mercy, was released in September 2011 and was preceded that summer by the highly anticipated first single, “Surgeon.” A hallucinogenic cocktail of dizzying splendor, this track exemplifies all the qualities that make St. Vincent such a brilliant artist: mesmerizing vocals, challenging lyrical themes and ingenious musical arrangements that are freakishly addictive.



The song opens with the line, “I spent the summer on my back,” which implies either lying on an operating table or underneath the body of a man. This dual symbolism of surgery and sex pervades every verse that follows, slowly building in intensity as the repeated chorus of, “Best finest surgeon/Come cut me open,” sends an erotic charge sizzling over the woozy electric guitar. According to an NPR interview with Clark, this lyric was taken directly from Marilyn Monroe’s diary: “She wrote down the sentence, ‘Best finest surgeon—Lee Strasberg, come cut me open,’ because she was studying with Lee Strasburg at the Actor’s Studio at the time, and he was a tremendous mentor to her. And I just thought that was brilliant and really strange.”

“Surgeon” is a spine-tingling dip into a troubled woman’s psyche—a housewife suddenly jolted out of her Benzedrine and white wine coma by a hysterical seizure of passion unfulfilled. Clark’s voice starts out low and languid, undulating on waves of desire before lurching into a frantic, pleading falsetto. As the song picks up momentum, hazy woodwinds give way to frenetic keyboard, eventually culminating in a psychotic breakdown of manic synth and wailing siren calls. The effect is provocative, unnerving and deeply arousing at the same time.

Because Clark’s dark and often-sadistic musical persona is so fiercely at odds with her delicate beauty, she is able to transcend cutesy indie rock and stand on her own as a powerful and uniquely dynamic virtuoso. This song is just one example of her undeniable talent—and hopefully, if her fans continue to clamor for her, she will grace them with many, many more.