“In the press there’s always been an exploitation of my vulnerability that has demeaned my professionalism, has demeaned my stature,” said Chan Marshall - aka Cat Power - in a recent radio interview with Mary Anne Hobbs. Indeed, in the run-up to the release of her tenth studio album, Wanderer, the vast majority of media coverage seems to have followed the same narrative: Marshall struggles with depression and addiction issues, gives notoriously “erratic” live performances, bucks her ideas up, goes to rehab, has a baby, and - despite a blip whereby she becomes a single parent - is ultimately saved by her motherhood and sobriety and writes an album. Of course, an artist’s personal life is always going to be part and parcel of their music - and I’m not denying that struggle and recovery and parenthood would have a significant impact on anyone's artistic output - but Cat Power has been subject to a particular brand of romanticisation her whole career, epitomised by the 2003 LA Weekly piece in which John Payne crowned her “the queen of sadcore”. Reducing a highly gifted songwriter, producer and vocalist to a “rather beautiful” sad girl and her “forlorn guitar or piano-accompanied musings on life, love, confusion, blades of grass, this color and that abstract painting”? File next to Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and then set the damn filing cabinet on fire.
Wanderer, although not explicitly confrontational, subtly undermines this longstanding and limited perception of What Cat Power Is. Marshall herself sits in the producer’s seat, and gone is the gloss of 2012’s Sun; these 11 songs are stripped back to the sparse bones of piano, guitar and that distinctive, smoky, Southern States voice. Traditional folk and blues music is referenced throughout, and especially on the hymn-like a cappella title track, which opens the album, the plodding, persistently plucked strings of ‘Black’, and the almost harp-ish acoustic guitar flourishes of ‘Me Voy’.
The album comes to a head with its lead single, ‘Woman’: a gently self-assured number featuring minimal, though not insignificant, backing vocals from Lana Del Rey - an artist who is also often discussed in terms of her sadness, her beauty, and not much else. (In fact, if you Google ‘queen of sadcore’, a review of Del Rey’s 2015 album Honeymoon appears directly beneath good old John Payne’s sexist shit-tip of an article.) On ‘Woman’, Del Rey breathily echoes as Marshall sings: “If you know people who know me / You might want them to speak / To tell you ’bout the girl or the woman you know / More than you think you know about me […] The doctor said I was not my past, he said I was finally free […] I’m a woman of my word / Or haven’t you heard / My word’s the only thing I’ve ever needed.”
‘Woman’, and by extension Wanderer, is a reminder that empowerment comes in many guises. Forget shouting in a balaclava… sometimes a “Fuck You” sung tenderly, in a minor key, is just as potent.
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Tue Oct 02 13:02:33 CEST 2018
On her latest record, Chan Marshall returns to the intimacy that defined her earliest work.
Tue Oct 09 15:52:55 CEST 201874
On her first album in six years, Chan Marshall roams the many moods of her songwriting with a careful, soft-spoken power.
Fri Oct 05 07:00:00 CEST 201870
Chan Marshall has always given a lot of herself to her audience. Throughout her career as Cat Power, Marshall has always shared her emotions, no matter how raw, no matter how vulnerable.
Wanderer, the first Cat Power album in six years, is a reminder of just how much she is willing to lay bare. Stripped down to primarily piano and guitar arrangements, Marshall recalls a simplicity in her arrangements that she hasn’t revisited in the past 15 years and then doubles down on the minimalism. Strumming her guitar in an almost copy-pasted rhythm across the album, the repetition evokes a Cat Power-as-journeywoman folk motif. But the guitar is neither central nor important to this record. If the singular quality of Cat Power is the husky timbre of Marshall’s voice, then that is what is deservedly celebrated on Wanderer.
But where she once would have gone for maximum impact through sheer force, her delivery is steady and measured. Early album tracks ‘In Your Face’ and ‘You Get’ are gentle but have a directness that borders on an accusation — You never listen to reason — that are subtle calls for listeners to pay more attention to what’s happening around them. These songs build up to ‘Woman’, the centrepiece of the album both as the most pop leaning track and as a declaration of autonomy; a declaration that every American woman can feel boiling under her skin at this political juncture.
Credit is also overdue to Marshall as a producer and a curator. Her production work on Sun and You Are Free are evidence enough of her range, but Wanderer is a display of a clear decision of restraint. The textures Marshall creates with her vocals on ‘Black’ take the song so far beyond its foundation of acoustic guitar and nothing more, and Lana Del Rey’s guest appearance is notably understated. Similarly, Marshall’s reputation for taking covers of other artists and making them her own allows her sparse piano version of Rhianna’s “Stay” to fit neatly within Wanderer and her larger collection of covers.
After building Cat Power up to the be kind of artist that has a backing band, the minimalism of Wanderer is a shock to the system. But Marshall has created an album with a nuance and polish she didn’t have in her early days of just her and her guitar. Even if the territory is somewhat familiar, she’s never made an album quite like this before.
Tue Oct 02 18:09:07 CEST 2018