St. Vincent will release her sixth studio album Daddy’s Home on May 14th. Based on the first two singles, I have middling hopes for the album, but we’ll have to wait and hear the full thing before concluding anything. No matter what though, St. Vincent has built a substantial rock legacy across her first five albums with multiple ones considered the best of their respective years. A list of her 15 best songs encapsulates a decade of eclectic art rock building on the backs of careers like David Bowie, Kate Bush, Prince, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and so much more.
15. “Strange Mercy” (2011, Strange Mercy)
This title track was the first one written for what’s widely-regarded as her best album. The lyrics allude to her father who was imprisoned in a stock fraud scheme in 2010, but the true emotional pull of the song comes from a bridge on police brutality and a dreamy synth riff that dominates the second half of the song.
14. “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood” (2009, Actor)
Actor is where St. Vincent fully broke through and also happens to be her most underrated album (there’s an argument to be made that it’s her best). The imagery within the title hangs over the song and offers a devilish humor to the standard lyrical anxiety about the past and future.
13. “Hang on Me” (2017, MASSEDUCTION)
The MASSEDUCTION opener is one of her most heartbreaking songs as it depicts a relationship that will inevitably fail. The production and songwriting has a notably pop atmosphere thanks to Jack Antonoff, and that’s what makes it one of her most relatable, easy-to-love songs in her whole discography.
12. “Birth in Reverse” (2014, St. Vincent)
The first single off St. Vincent is a straight-forward rocker that displays her virtuoso guitar-playing. This came after her album and tour with David Byrne, and it’s easy to see the Eno/Byrne influence in the staccato style of it all.
11. “Cheerleader” (2011, Strange Mercy)
This is one of her most explosive choruses in style and meaning. The “I” repeat highlights the guitar/synth blowout that follows, and the lyrics show a desire to not be on the sidelines and to gain some self-worth not rooted in others.
10. “Los Ageless” (2017, MASSEDUCTION)
This is possibly her most popular song and acts as the thematic centerpiece of MASSEDUCTION. It’s a thrilling display of St. Vincent’s multi-personality behind the mic (effortlessly-cool vs. manic freakout).
9. “Now, Now” (2007, Marry Me)
I guess it’s fine to skip over Marry Me when going back through her albums, but the opener was always there to prove what career she was capable of. It acts as a proper introduction by saying what she isn’t.
8. “Teenage Talk” (2015, non-album single)
This song kind-of came and went, but it displays a side of St. Vincent we often don’t see. It’s one of her smoothest songs with an absolutely dreamy synth riff and maybe her most flawless vocal performances.
7. “Actor Out of Work” (2009, Actor)
When St. Vincent rocks out, this song is the template she follows: the drums never let up, the guitar starts manic and then accelerates towards complete insanity, and the lyrics dissect the body with references to iron lungs, broken arms, bandages, and brass knuckles.
6. “Prince Johnny” (2014, St. Vincent)
Her self-titled fourth album isn’t perfect, but many critics see it as the peak of her career. That opinion holds up when just looking at the singles like “Prince Johnny,” which is just exhilarating glam rock start-to-finish.
5. “Surgeon” (2011, Strange Mercy)
The inspiration for this song is as clear as it gets; Annie Clark found this line in Marilyn Monroe’s diaries, “Best finest surgeon — Lee Strasberg, come cut me open.” With St. Vincent’s fascination with beauty and hospitals in general (her stage name’s literally a hospital), it comes at the perfect confluence of her aesthetic. Also, the guitar-playing is impeccable.
4. “Digital Witness” (2014, St. Vincent)
On first listen, it felt repetitive and a bit too abrasive with those horns, but it quickly grew as one of her most exciting songs and acted as an introduction to her for many.
3. “The Strangers” (2009, Actor)
Of all of St. Vincent’s tracks, the Actor opener aesthetically covers the most ground. If you want the dreamy art-pop version of St. Vincent, the first half is stunning, but if you want her to rock out more, the guitar break acts as a relief.
2. “New York” (2017, MASSEDUCTION)
The condensed pop style all over MASSEDUCTION has its drawbacks, but it works perfectly for “New York,” which is a simple piano ballad that discusses loneliness in a crowd of people. It’s a New York song that doesn’t have to be about New York; just sing along and replace it with your city’s name.
1. “Cruel” (2011, Strange Mercy)
I’ve never tired of this one from the Kate Bush-like intro to the brass-like guitar to St. Vincent’s passionate falsettos. It’s simply a perfect song and when someone asks you what St. Vincent’s all about, this should be the one to play.