Cat Power - Sun
"She sits at a piano or lays her guitar across her lap …she draws all the attention in the room and makes the world stop spinning." Chan Marshall aka Cat Power makes other people's lives stop spinning, just not hers. Having a forced neo-nomadic alcohol laced childhood existence has led to a rootlessness that has plagued her adult life. Her own alcoholism and depression seem to have been a theme, but for a while you could have called her Karl Lagerfeld's muse. With her mental torment imbedded in outward beauty, she's like the quintessential 'damaged vixen'
At 40, there's still an element of this: "I entered a long relationship, which I really wanted to be successful. So now that relationship is over…there's a great loss personally in my life right now, but there's also a gift in that I'm lucky I finished this album." The only thing that circumvents her aura is stability, but on Sun she's managed to capture it, reducing all her torment as well as he passion to witness good change around her to produce an established, structured album. Perhaps it's not luck that she finished Sun, realising that, despite everything, music has always been her one firm root.
On her 9th studio album, Marshall has taken unexpectedly electronic direction. This most likely has to do with producer Philippe Zdar of Cassius fame ('I Love You So'). The opening track 'Cherokee' has a certainty about it sounding learned as she ethereally recites "I never knew pain/never knew shame/now I know why." It's danceable, but not quite 'clubbish'. Zdar has managed to find a happy medium that still sounds like the Cat Power of You Are Free, but with more of a kinetic authority. There is an element, however, of inconsistent experimenting. The start of title track 'Sun' sounds like an ill-fitting pastiche of 'H.A.M' by Jay and 'Ye. It gets better though, settling into an electronic fuelled ambience.
Having been styled as a cover's artist, her seventh album The Greatest, showed that Marshall could fully immerse herself within her own psyche. Straying under a dark cloud for the best part of 5 years, creating Sun engendered a sense 'that you're not growing if you're not doing something creative'. Sun returns to this rawness, exhibiting her artistic prowess. 'Ruin' a clumping tale of, now elected nomadism, demonstrates her receptivity, from how to engineer a sense of urgency and emotion with repetition and manipulation of syllables to criticising western tunnel vision "bitchin complaining, when other people who ain't got shit to eat." 'Always On My Own' marks some untried territory for Cat Power, merging synths, so high they're just at the cusp of being detectable by humans, with infrequent guitar strumming. Unlike the general social message in 'Ruin', Cat Power is indirectly singing to us what her tumultuous life has taught her; "we all have to make, those mistaaakes" she sings on 'Human Being'.
The collaboration between Marshall and Zdar is a great match, especially at Sun's simplest moments. 'Manhattan' is a cute but punching ditty, upholding this powerful spirit present throughout the album. One of the song's effectual additions is the drums kicking in as Cat Power sings "see your heart has a rhythm," showing Marshall and Zdar's ultra sensitive receptors and intuitive feel for how certain ideas communicate sonically.
Sun closes with 'Peace and Love' recalling her previous bluesy inspired efforts. "peace and love is a famous generation/I'm a lover but I'm in it to win." Sun is a self-assured and forthright effort by Chan Marshall. On this album she shows herself as a true visionary, willing to develop and adapt. Most importantly, and as always, she bares her soul openly, honestly but fully aware of her function; her listeners aren't soundboards, but acquaintances to be communicated to.
Her twitter page shows her love for capital letters, she wants you to see her voice, "you've got a right to scream, when they don't want you to speak" she sings on 'Human Being'. Through pain and the desire to see change around her, her musical agenda is loud and clear; but Sun is a more fitting a tribute to her artistry than 140 characters can ever afford.