After a “psychotic break” and a drinking problem, Cat Power, née Chan Marshall, has risen from the ashes with her brand new album of original material, “Sun.”
“Sun” is not a record one would expect from Cat Power. Musically, it’s a huge shift from her previous blues-inspired work. Showcasing electronics, drum machines, layered vocals and guitars, as well as an overly distinct mixing and production style, “Sun” traverses uncharted terrain as a modern pop record.
Despite her newfound electronic and pop sound, Chan Marshall has not cast aside her melancholy songwriting style, but rather intertwined it with her latest sound. Longtime fans of Cat Power may not necessarily enjoy Marshall’s newfound musical direction, but it is extremely unique and intriguing. “Sun” definitely has the most distinct production style of any of Cat Power’s material, but there are still moments when one can hear echoes of her traditional bluesy guitars and emotionally rife piano arrangements.
The opening track, “Cherokee,” showcases Marshall’s strong voice and defining ability to convey emotion, but the song can verge on depressing. While this discrepancy between lyrics and music is captivating, it isn’t always successful in the remainder of the album. “Cherokee” is a bold work that bursts into unexpected drum kicks and layered guitars.
Marshall’s sorrowful vocals are similarly layered throughout; echoing and booming, her voice is ethereal, haunting and captivating all at once. “3,6,9” might be the apex of Cat Power’s new sound direction. The song tactfully addresses, confronts and, to an extent, forgives Marshall’s battle with alcoholism. Her many auto-tuned selves harmonize with each other, crooning and bouncing to a powerful backing guitar. Persistent beats and a catchy sing-song chorus craft “3,6,9” into one of the best tracks on “Sun.” “Manhattan” is another great song that slowly rolls along with simple piano chords. Characteristic of old Cat Power, the tune slowly builds into a crescendo of drums as it progresses. The title track “Sun,” as well as the lead single “Ruin,” are more aggressive songs that feature heavier guitars coupled with softer percussion, all wrapped smoothly around Marshall’s slick vocals.
The smoother production of these tracks leads to some of the more memorable musical and vocal arrangements on the record. In spite of the overly pop sound of “Sun”, the album is centered on Marshall finding inner peace and some form of self-forgiveness. Perhaps this is most apparent in the penultimate 11-minute track, “Nothin’ But Time.” Marshall pairs with Iggy Pop for this duet, lamenting the demons that have tormented her while simultaneously conquering them.
Marshall still relies on the characteristically downcast lyrics that have defined her catalogue of work thus far, but the addition of multi-tracked vocals, auto-tune and layered instruments seems out of place at times and tend to conflict with Marshall’s emotionally fraught lyrics. “Sun” is most powerful and effective when it takes a step back and lets Marshall’s tales unfold at their own pace. This notion of musical freedom and less production is the crux of the appeal of Cat Power’s previous hits.
“Sun” presents an ethereal and hypnotic feel that might not connect with long-time fans or fans of her more simplistic work. Nonetheless, Marshall’s move in such a new direction is one that few musicians are willing to take. Her uniqueness and willingness to defy expectations is praise-worthy and “Sun” is a risky record to have produced after her hiatus. A first listening of “Sun” doesn’t do Marshall’s new musical direction justice, but a closer listen really brings the album to life. While “Sun” is not Marshall’s best album to date and doesn’t showcase her overall strengths, she has transitioned exceptionally well into a new sound she has been able to make her own, and has accomplished this all this without abandoning the elements that make her a great musician.
Essential Tracks: “Cherokee,” “Ruin,” “3,6,9,” “Peace and Love”