It has been a rough year for Charlyn “Chan” Marshall, a.k.a. the soulful songstress behind the stage name Cat Power. Following her much appraised 2006 effort, The Greatest, Marshall was briefly in a psychiatric ward for mental exhaustion and alcohol abuse, and a tour for that album never took place. Most recently she and actor Giovanni Ribisi ended a five-year relationship, which coincided with the release of Cat Power’s latest album, Sun.
“Cherokee,” an upbeat dance track, starts off an album that may well will go down as the smoky-voiced singer’s decidedly brightest work yet. “Bury me, marry me to the sky/Marry me, marry me to the sky/Feels like time is on my time,” she sings, as if emerging from the ashes to re-establish herself as the phoenix that she is. Known for her obsessively self-critical creative persona, Marshall wrote all the songs, and plays almost all the instruments on the record, which took five years to make. The result is an album which replaces trademark minimal guitar-playing with synthesizers, drum machines, and electronics.
Following “Cherokee” are the album title track “Sun” and “Ruin,” and these three form the most upbeat songs on the record, and just when you, the real Cat Power fan, start reminiscing where the Georgia-born blues child went, here comes the album’s masterpiece “3,6,9,” in which Marshall synthetically harmonizes her voice with, well, herself. The song is a joyous blend of Marshall’s roots and her new sound.
If her previous albums, like What Would The Community Think and The Greatest were minimally stylized pain, then Sun is a highly stylized rebirth. There is still pain, no doubt, but it’s a closing wound, rather than a fresh cut. “Manhattan” is a dreamy ballad in which Marshall sings “You say your heart has a rhythm/Well, see you got your secret on/You say hey and nothing to hide/You and your secret life.” While Sun is overall less obviously political than her previous records, “Manhattan” is a standout, albeit quiet, meditation on the island’s symbolical meaning after the events of 9/11. With simple piano chords, it is the closest to the Cat Power the audience knows and loves.
Sun holds one more surprise, and that is a collaboration with Iggy Pop on “Nothin’ but Time,” a 10-minute track that frankly would have sounded better without Pop’s clumsy moaning in the background. It is nevertheless Marshall who redeems the song, and after all, it’s a pretty cool collaboration, if only on paper. “You’ve got nothin’ but time/ and it got nothin’ on you,” may now become your next Facebook status, my dear reader.
Overall, Sun is a welcome surprise for musical aficionados everywhere. For years, Cat Power has been the staple hipster background music at your local café, and she is probably the only singer who can make a cover better than the original (check out her renditions of Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” or Robert Plant’s “Sea of Love”). Her honeydew voice fits just as well in a bar as it does on the dance floor, a testament to her versatility and talent. Sun was worth the six-year wait, for sure.
Favorite tracks: “Cherokee,” “Ruin,” “Manhattan”
By Radina Papuckhieva