Cat Power gets a new purr with ‘Sun’
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 9, 2012 23:09
Fans familiar with Cat Power, the musical act created and maintained by the temperamental Chan Marshall, are used to moody and bluesy songs with stripped-down instrumentals and soothing vocals that sound like they exist solely within the listener’s head.
The opposite is true with Sun, Marshall’s first album in four years.
The last Cat Power album, 2008’s “Jukebox”, consisted of cover songs and was more or less forgotten in the wake of 2006’s “The Greatest, “which garnered much publicity as one of the year’s best, debuting at No. 34 on the Billboard 200.
If “The Greatest” is a testament to Marshall’s inner self-discovery and new-age sound, then Sun serves as a civilized divorce between the old Marshall and the new Marshall.
With tracks such as “Manhattan” and “Ruin,” Marshall forgoes inward thinking in favor of a more upbeat, accessible sound, though it would be a mistake to describe these tracks as positive.
While most of the songs on Sun feature heavy drums and synthesizers —dance music, really — Marshall reminds the listener she is still self-aware and, if not as self-involved and brooding as in her previous albums, still a prisoner of her engrained pessimism.
Even Marshall herself has changed as a person.
Following what she described in an interview to Pitchfork as a nervous breakdown, Marshall relocated to Miami, chopped off her signature long, dark hair in exchange for a short, bleach-blonde pixie style and cultivated a deep tan.
Marshall’s new appearance is perfectly reflected in Sun. She looks like someone who would sing vocals to dance tracks, which she does, albeit with a cynical twist.
“Sun” runs the gamut of new wave sounds — think New Order — to early hip-hop on the track “3, 6, 9.” Marshall entertains the idea of death with playful instrumentals and morbid vocals in the song “Nothin’ But Time.” She contemplates the limits of her own existence in “Human Being” while praising the ability of the human race to ponder ethical matters such as equality and justice.
“Peace and Love” embodies a ‘70s gypsy vibe while also bringing to mind a kind of maniacal chanting. The best song on Sun by far, however, is the mellow “Cherokee,” a reflective and cleverly orchestrated track that showcases the best of Marshall’s ability to be both introspective and extroverted.
In short, “Cherokee”—wisely selected as the first track on “Sun”—introduces the listener to Marshall’s newer electronic sound without ignoring the folk sensibilities that made Cat Power such a musical powerhouse in the first place.
There is a lot of risk involved when an artist such as Marshall decides to go in a different direction.
It seems that Marshall is aware of these risks, and understands that by providing longtime fans with small bits and pieces of her former sounds she will appease those who dislike the electronic and synthesized Sun.
Overall, the album offers mass appeal and will undoubtedly bring Cat Power many new devotees who would otherwise never have given Marshall’s talented body of work a second thought.