Cat Power Shines with Sun
With just one listen, you'll know why Cat Power's new album Sun is already on its way to becoming a modern classic. Chan Marshall, who is essentially all of Cat Power (the liner notes read: "All songs by: Cat Power / All Instruments: Chan Marshall") writes fully realized songs with a strong control over her sound. 2006's masterpiece The Greatest was a stripped down affair with retro stylings, but was bigger and more expansive than nearly anything of that year. Marshall does include some guest musicians on two tracks, ample engineers, and a brilliant guest spot of Iggy Pop reprising David Bowie in his signature song "We Could Be Heroes" in "Nothing But Time"; she has crafted a highly textured album more reminiscent of Blonde Redhead's later career than Cat Power's early work.
Like all great albums, Sun explodes with three forward moving tracks ("Cherokee" and "Ruin" could both easily be huge songs this year) and then ends more down-tempo with two of the best songs on the LP: "Nothing But Time" and "Peace & Love". Don't be fooled; however, Marshall keeps us moving through the whole work. If radio meant anything anymore, any track could be featured - to great acclaim - as a single. I suspect the wonderful "Manhattan" may ultimately find itself as the song which fully cements itself into our nation's psyche.
What's funny, is Marshall has never been the most accomplished lyricist. Her licks aren't memorable enough to be immediately recalled, but her sound is unmistakable. Now, with Sun, Cat Power's previous impeccable timbre of guitar to piano and beautifully restrained percussion has been updated with extensive employment of digital drum tracks and surprisingly superb use of auto-tune. Sun sounds current and contemporary, but the songs feel like they could be from anytime, a high complement. An older generation could understand it - there's an intrinsic toe-tapping to it - nor do I expect it to become dated quickly. The album stands strong, shining all the way through.
If you can still get your hands on one, I recommend purchasing the Limited Edition LP. While I haven't directly compared it to the standard issue - which has completely different artwork - this is a fabulous package. In a beautiful glossy black and overlaid with gold, the LP is an example of minimal design. Small flourishes and the best materials make the album's quality apparent right away. The vinyl themselves are clear - something this writer hasn't come across before - are really fun to look through. If you have an interesting platter, Sun should look good spinning around it. The scheme extends to the inside with gold on black. We're treated to Cat Power and the track names in hieroglyphics, a very strange decision since nothing else about the record seems to hint at all to an Egyptian connection, but it succeeds in a very cryptic way, adding mystery to the object. A coupon for a free digital download is included by Matador Records and an additional 7" ("Back In the Days (For Christopher Wallace)" b/w "Fire") as well. Both songs on the 7" are less produced than Sun, but exist more in the realm of much of Cat Power's earlier work. The tracks are great for the collector, but outshone by the LP proper, although nothing will outshine the reflective gold surface of the 7" sleeve. Cat Power is embossed in hieroglyphics on the sturdy sleeve paper that is black on the inside, making it look really sharp.
I have a feeling I'll be listening to this album pretty frequently for the next few months and won't be surprised to see this included in many 'Best Of...' lists at the end of the year. Just as with The Greatest, this record is also going to endear itself to the collector side of me with its fantastic layout and design, beckoning me to take it off the shelf and give it a spin for years to come. Much of Cat Power's catalogue has aged well with time, but none has been so tasty as Sun from the first sip.