The universe is making music all the time

Chosen One: Cat Power

leave a comment »

“Things like that happen all the time in this great big world of ours. It’s like taking a boat out on a beautiful lake on a beautiful day and thinking both the sky and the lake are beautiful. So stop eating yourself up alive. Things will go where they’re supposed to go if you just let them take their natural course.”

(Haruki Murakami, ‘Norwegian Wood’)

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry


The arrival of a new Cat Power release is always a special occasion. ‘Sun’ is Cat Power (AKA Chan Marshall) in rejuvenated form, projecting a bold spirit and showcasing her artistic brilliance. Six years have passed since her last album of original material. The album in question was ‘The Greatest’ which was Marshall’s Memphis soul record, a move away from her more raw and intimate recordings. Looking across Cat Power’s two decades of musical output is something to truly appreciate. 1998’s ‘Moon Pix’, 2000’s The Covers Record’ and 2003’s ‘You Are Free’ are some of the finest of her works showcasing Marshall as the most original and compelling singer songwriters of our time. For me, Cat Power is a blues singer, she’s Nina Simone for my generation. Whether she is alone at a piano or strumming quietly on a guitar or backed by Dirty Three, her voice is the jewel of the crown. Chan Marshall’s music puts a spell on you, stirs your soul, that hits you straight to the heart’s core.

I remember seeing a film by Mark Borthwick called ‘Speaking For Trees’ ten or so years ago. It’s a beautiful film of Chan Marshall performing her unique blend of folk and blues, in a sunlit woodland area with tall grass and trees. Chan’s long hair covers her face and is often stopping and starting midway through songs, taking in the scenery that surrounds her. Covers like ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, ‘Time Is On My Side’, ‘Sad Sad Song’ and originals like ‘Evolution’, ‘Rule The Islands’ and ‘I Don’t Blame You’, are performed with such rawness and beauty. I think it epitomizes Cat Power, as anything and everything she has done or will do, a special spark of artistic brilliance forever shines through. Her latest record, ‘Sun’ is no exception.

Chan Marshall has performed and produced ‘Sun’ herself in various locations, including a studio she built in Malibu. The Georgia native calls this record her “rebirth” and ‘Sun’ is just that and more. The songs are immaculately produced, glistening pop music, where electronics and dance beats replace the more traditional guitar and piano of previous albums. The spark of spontaneity still exists throughout ‘Sun’, from the opener ‘Cherokee’ to the closing ‘Peace And Love’.

‘Cherokee’ is stunning. Cat Power’s vocals are delivered beneath layered sounds of electric guitar, bass, drums and electronic beats. The hypnotic guitar groove reminds me of ‘Cross Bone Style’ from her ‘Moon Pix’ album. The first words Marshall sings, ‘I never knew love like this / the wind the moon the Earth the sky / I never knew pain like this / When everything dies’. The dark lyrics are painted on a canvas of uplifting sound. A lyrical highlight, ‘bury me / marry me / to the sky’ is sung evocatively by Marshall. Her singular voice has never sounded so good. The lead single ‘Ruin’ was my first taste of ‘Sun’, and has been the soundtrack to many evenings since last summer. Jim White is on drums here and is joined by Erik Paparazzi (bass), Gregg Foreman (piano) and Judah Bauer (guitar).

The band add funk and rhythm to Cat Power’s soulful pop. Irresistible hooks abound. ‘Ruin’ is highly infectious! Marshall’s lyrics echoes a personal travel diary, ‘I’ve been to Saudi Arabia Ohaka Calcutta Soweto Mozambique Istanbul / Rio Rome Argentine Chile Mexico Taiwan Great Britain Belfast to the / Desert in Spain Wollongong Tokyo.’ The chorus refrain is a pure pop delight, where Marshall sings ‘what are we doin’? we’re sittin on a ruin.’ ‘3, 6, 9′ is R&B of her hero Mary J. Blige combined with the rock groove of Jack White and The White Stripes. On the chorus, Marshall sings ‘3, 6, 9 /  you drink wine / monkey on your back / you feel just fine’, that is filled with pop-laden hooks and an infectious groove.

‘Always On My Own’ is the most intimate of Sun’s songs and could easily be taken from her ‘You Are Free’ album. Sparse acoustic guitar and atmospheric beats provide the sonic landscape to Marshall’s irresistible blues voice, ‘I am what you want / I am what you’re not / I want to live / My way of living.’

One of my favourite songs is the hypnotic blues of ‘Human Being’. The tempo is slow and the acoustic guitar blues notes blend perfectly with Marshall’s crystalline voice. Marshall sings soul-stirring blues over drum beats and samples, ‘You’re a human being / You got your own voice so sing / You got two hands let’s go / and make anything.’ This one of the strongest songs Cat Power has ever put to tape. The song’s directness immediately hits you, the blues come straight from Marshall’s heart and soul. Marshall’s advice is profound, ‘You my dear are a force, to feed not to fear, you gotta right to anywhere anything.’

‘Manhattan’ is sublime and my current favourite. The production, vocals, lyrics, arrangement are all immaculate, producing a truly beautiful and compelling pop tour de force. A simple piano chord is played over torchlight beats. ‘Don’t look at the moon tonight / You’ll never be Manhattan’. It’s akin to Leonard Cohen such is ‘Manhattan’s greatness. For me, ‘Manhattan’ is similar to ‘Willy’ from ‘The Greatest’, a song that is so utterly transcendent, there is a genuine need to continuously revisit the song.

‘Silent Machine’ contains a killer guitar riff that Jack White or Dan Auerbach would be proud of. The guitar riff rages over big drum beats and piano, ‘I am told there’s a mother you may remember, in the name of the father but never the ghost,’ Marshall sings on the song’s verse. ‘Nothin But Time’ is a duet with Iggy Pop. The epic ballad is yet another sublime sonic creation. The song is adventurous and wholly uplifting. The lyrics of the chorus are: ‘You want to live, I want to live / you ain’t got nothin else but time / and they ain’t got nothin on you / your world is just beginning.’ Funnily enough I don’t see the need for Iggy to be on vocal duties here (David Bowie was asked first), as always it’s Chan Marshall’s voice that shines through. The closer ‘Peace And Love’ is rock grandeur a la Led Zeppelin. The storming guitar riff could be Royal Trux and Chan Marshall’s vocal delivery is PJ Harvey at her best. Marshall sings ‘Peace and love is a famous generation / I may be a lover but I’m in it to win.’

The “rebirth” of Cat Power is now.


‘Sun’ is out now on Matador Records.



“Last time I saw you, you were on stage 
Your hair was wild, your eyes were red 
And you were in a rage 
You were swinging your guitar around 
Cause they wanted to hear that sound 
But you didn’t want to play 
And I don’t blame you 

I don’t blame you”

(—’I Don’t Blame You’, taken from  ‘You Are Free’, 2003)



“losing a star without a sky
losing the reasons why
you’re losing the calling, you’ve been faking
and I’m not kidding
it’s damned if you don’t and it’s damned if you do
be true ’cause they’ll lock you up in a sad sad zoo”

(—’Metal Heart’, taken from  ‘Moon Pix’, 1998)


Written by admin

January 30, 2013 at 10:41 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: