Cat Power, ‘Sun’ – Album Review
Each entry in the Cat Power catalog -- which, as a whole, is as high quality a body of music as you'll find in recent memory, period -- reflects a different shade of Chan Marshall's complicated personality.While they're all different, the shades are more often than not different versions of a blustery swath of grey. The first half of 1998's 'Moon Pix' represents some of the most morose music ever committed to tape, and 1994's atonal 'Myra Lee' is the sound of a 21-year-old who would, as the story goes, take the stage at open-mic nights around New York City to sullenly claw a de-tuned, two-stringed guitar and grieve into a microphone like the child bride of Jandek.
But in 2006, Marshall released 'The Greatest,' that joyous, brilliant album that saw the perpetually troubled girl rein in her adolescent demons and emerge as a charming, wide-eyed woman, resurrecting alluring, smoky Southern soul. With 'Sun,' her ninth album under the Cat Power moniker and first release in six years, Marshall returns as a more complex, three-dimensional character than her previous albums -- all audio diaries and intimate travelogues -- ever let on. And that makes for a strange experience.
Her previous albums, by nature of their signature nude emotion and unapologetic instability, have been exercises in voyeurism for the listener. We've been reading her diaries, but Marshall -- removed as she has always been -- has been effectively out of the room. 'Sun' is the first album where she seems present, available, stable (superficially, at least) and voluntarily open -- not just confessional. She's not a fleetingly interesting drunk at a bar cornering you with her sob story; she's a friend confiding in you. And at times, that type of eye-to-eye intimacy is more unnerving than the emotional surveillance of old.
It also bears mentioning that 'Sun' is a bold, rewarding, predictably great album that happens to sound incredible over headphones. Marshall, who produced the record, and mixer Phillipe Zdar -- whose work on the Beastie Boys' 'Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2' lit a fire underneath Chan's rump to get back in the studio -- have done an incredible job at crafting a well-rounded, gimmick-free noise that tastefully combines acoustic and electronic techniques. ("Cat Power Goes EDM," this ain't, thank god.)
I've already used these pages to rave about lead single 'Ruin,' and we could fill up this entire page talking about how Cat Power wrote the best Radiohead song in years with 'Always On My Own,' but the album's finest five minutes come at the beginning of the disc. The track 'Cherokee' is a beautiful, grown-up version of 1998's 'Cross Bones Style.' The tinny groove and multi-tracked vocals of that indie classic reappear 14 years later, this time in a fuller, more matured way that encapsulates the Cat Power story thus far.
The act of comparing those songs evokes that jolt of pride (and, let's face it, attraction) the comes with discovering that the gangly girl next door grew up into a cool, worldly woman -- but a cool woman with all her rangy teenaged idiosyncrasies still intact. You don't have to look any further than the 'Moon Pix' and 'Sun' album covers to catch the whole of that sensation. Admirers will feel unfiltered pride and relief that everything's gonna be OK for a bit longer in the tumultuous Cat Power saga.