Chan Marshall, the singer-songwriter who performs as Cat Power, wrote, played, and produced the entirety of new album “Sun” herself. This time ‘round she put down her guitar and put away her piano, choosing instead to manipulate a synthesizer and a drum kit, creating a very new, very adventurous sound for her soulful, drawling vocals – which are sometimes affected by auto-tune on Sun – to sing over. Such hardy methodology is equally as fresh to Cat Power fans as her sense of hope and purpose on the album: before this, she easily could have been called the poster-indie-child of melancholy, both in her music and because of her very public mental and emotional wreckages. “Here comes the sun,” she sings on the title track of the album. It’s a fitting epithet for both the album itself and Marshall’s emotional state.
The past decade has seen her in shambles, struggling through addiction and heartbreak. When her last album of original material The Greatest was released six years ago, she was known as a folk – and blues – crooning bona fide mess, giving in to extravagant and aggressive whims onstage, fueled by intense stage fright and a penchant for booze and prescription drugs. Last spring her four year relationship with actor Giovanni Ribisi ended, and just three months later he married model Agyness Deyn. At 40, she’s sober and as seen on Sun – somewhere amid political and social laments, anthems of empathy, and realist chants – she’s incredibly positive.
Cat Power’s “Cherokee”
Sun’s first track “Cherokee” hits you with a strong drum beat, haunting guitar and an infectious piano riff, a full-bodied sound fitted with electronic touches. Its lyrics are a rumination on nature, primitive’ism, and mortality. It’s dark at the same time it’s optimistic: “Bury me, marry me to the sky…if I die before my time/bury me upside down,” she sings. The message is a self-assured call to moving forward and making peace in the face of uncontrollable, external life forces. In a cryptic way, she’s telling a deeply personal story, and that lasts throughout the whole album.
During most of Sun Marshall lives in the present, but “3, 6, 9” looks back on being an addict, putting herself precisely in that moment in time: “I feel tired, awake all night/Head so heavy like a wastebasket,” she sings. Over a catchy, uptempo beat, the chorus starts “3, 6, 9, you drink wine/monkey on your back, you feel just fine.” A depressing ode to pain and sadness would be an understandable treatment for an artist trying to capture a severely dependent time in their life; that Marshall imbues the song with a merry euphoria and illuminates a sense of both high and low makes it wonderfully honest and ingenious.
“Always On My Own” feels out of place and disengaged in comparison, but it’s hard to mind much when the instrumentals are so expertly dark and rhythmic. “Manhattan” is a groove worth fighting for, one that you may not get it on the first listen, yet it feels frustratingly incomplete – just a little more development could have turned it into an anthem and an album highlight. A sure highlight is “Nothin But Time,” an epic 11-minute track that is perhaps the most empowering song Marshall has ever written – plus, it features vocals from Iggy Pop. “Your world is just beginning/and I know this life seems never ending/but you’ve got nothing but time, and it ain’t got nothin’ on you,” she sings. Marshall wrote it for Ribisi’s teenage daughter, but you get the sense that she’s singing to the girl in her, as well. Only two piano chords hammer on throughout the whole track, but there is no sense of monotony. “It’s up to you to be a superhero/It’s up to you to be like nobody,” she sings; another example of the glorious unexpected on Sun.
The album has a feeling of joyful experimentation and notably lacks moments that feel overdone or unrefined, common pitfalls to anyone doing something for the first time. Marshall has said that she doesn’t know how to play the guitar very well, so she plays slow, which has marked nearly all of her earlier material. With that technical ineptness in mind, it’s awesome that she’s created such an eclectic and accessible pop album using methods she never has before – and it still manages to be heartfelt and personal. With Sun, Marshall demonstrates a proven, instinct-driven musical prowess and redefines how we think of Cat Power.
Written by Megan Conway
OurVinyl | Contributor