Think you’ve heard Cat Power? Think again. Not only is her new release Sun cut from a different cloth than her previous work, but it also reveals a stronger, more confident Cat Power than most of us have ever seen.
Being Cat Power (or Chan Marshall, if you prefer) has not been easy, to put it mildly. Her life and career have been marred over the years by alcoholism, substance abuse, mental weakness, and a string of failed relationships. As a public performer, Marshall has lived these realities very much in front of her fans, reinforcing her image as a broken, tortured artist, evoking a mixture of sympathy for her frailties and awe for her ongoing creative genius.
Sun shatters that image completely, if that gives you any idea.
Written and recorded in multiple studios over a five-year period, this record serves as a musical testament to survival and independence—underscored by the fact that if you hear it on the record, it’s probably Cat Power. Written, recorded, produced, and played. Every instrument. (Almost) every vocal layer (and there are plenty). With the exception of being released on a major label (and Iggy Pop guesting on the 11-minute “Nothin’ But Time,” this is an “indie” project in every other sense of the word. As for the music, being self-produced and unrestricted sits well on Cat Power as she detours from her previous indie coffeehouse (and occasional blues/jazz) vibe for explorations into drum loops, piano loops, synths and complex sonic layering. Music is therapeutic, and you can almost feel Marshall immersing herself in the healing power of her own art.
On Sun, Cat Power doesn’t shrink from her past, but rather allows it to inform her lyrics. “3,6,9,” one of the album’s standout tracks, alludes to substance abuse (“You’ve got a right to have that hand you own / But the moment you hit it you’re on your own…3,6,9, You drink wine / Monkey on your back, you feel just fine”), while “Real Life” seems to process thoughts of suicide (“Real life is ordinary / Sometimes you don’t wanna live / Sometimes you got to, but you don’t want to / To get away with an unordinary life”). On “Ruin,” Marshall ponders the places she’s seen and chides herself for self-pity (“Bitching, complaining, when some people ain’t got sh*t to eat,”). And in “Nothing But Time,” a run-on song supposedly written for ex-boyfriend Giovanni Ribisi’s teenage daughter, Marshall tries to pull advice from the wisdom of experience: “It’s up to you to be a superhero / It’s up to you to be like nobody.”
The new short hairdo Marshall sports on the cover of Sun is perhaps a symbol of a new direction, a new sound, and perhaps a whole new outlook on life—a story of someone who openly wrestles with her ghosts, and comes out on top. And for that reason alone, Sun may very well be Cat Power’s finest work so far.