1:26pm

Thu September 6, 2012
Music Reviews

Cat Power Rips It Up, Starts Again

Originally published on Thu September 6, 2012 5:09 pm

I recently listened to the first single from the new Cat Power album with some fellow fans, and the room was deeply divided. Some thought the song was fabulous, but others were startled and upset — which I could understand, sort of. Chan Marshall's songs generally speak to pain and trauma with a hushed and intimate musical vocabulary. But this song, "Ruin," was different — not just a rock 'n' roll song, but one you might even want to dance to.

The story on Marshall's new album, Sun, is that it was made after a friend gave her feedback on some new Cat Power songs, saying they sounded too much like old Cat Power songs. So Marshall scrapped them. After some downtime, she holed up in a studio and built a record around synthesizers and drums, playing every instrument herself.

What I hear on the new Cat Power record is music that owes something to the incandescent gloom of '80s bands like New Order and The Cure — which makes a lot of sense, given Marshall's usual mopey streak. More surprising are vocals that, in their flow, also owe a bit to '80s hip-hop like the Furious Five or maybe Oaktown's 3.5.7.

Sun is less immediate than the last Cat Power record, which was titled The Greatest and rooted in classic Southern soul. But Marshall is an artist who follows her gut — so much so that, for years, she was maybe best known for walking off stages mid-set if the performance didn't feel right. It's that visceral quality that makes her music so indelible, and it's here, albeit in a new form. The more I listen to it, the more potent it gets.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Chan Marshall, better known by her artistic moniker, Cat Power, has been making records for nearly 20 years. In that time, she's earned a fiercely devoted fan base. Her signature songs are sad and spare, pecked out on piano or guitar. But her latest record uses synthesizers, drum machines, even vocal processing. It's called "Sun."

And our critic Will Hermes has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: I was recently listening to the first single from the new Cat Power album with some fellow fans, and the room was deeply divided. Some thought the song was fabulous. But others were startled and upset, which I could understand, sort of. Chan Marshall's songs generally speak to pain and trauma with a very hushed and intimate musical vocabulary. But this song, called "Ruin," was something different - not just a rock and roll song, but one you might even want to dance to.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUIN")

CAT POWER: (Singing) Too many people you know (unintelligible). Why do we do it? We're been all ruined. What are we doing? We're been all ruined.

HERMES: The story behind Chan Marshall's new record is that it was made after a friend gave her feedback on some new Cat Power songs, saying they sounded too much like old Cat Power songs. So, Marshall scrapped them and after some down time, she holed up in a studio and built a record around synthesizers and drums, playing every instrument herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHEROKEE")

POWER: (Singing) I never knew love like this. But some see you and I, never knew kind, I never knew shine, I now know why. Marry me, marry me, to the sky. Marry me, marry me to the sky. Marry me, marry me to the sky. Marry me, marry me to the sky...

HERMES: What I hear on the new Cat Power record is music that owes something to the incandescent gloom of '80s bands like the Cure and New Order, which makes a lot of sense, given Chan Marshall's usual mopey-ness. More surprising are vocals that, in their flow, also owe a bit to '80s hip-hop like the Furious Five or maybe Oaktown 357.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "3, 6, 9")

POWER: (Singing) If you said a stranger in there, (unintelligible) everything is this. You got a right to have that (unintelligible) the moment you hear it you're on your own. You're ready to go. Come on now, you want to hit the road. The low is like a steamboat running beneath the floor. I don't (unintelligible) summer day you tell me to go. 3, 6, 9, you drink wine. Put you on your back, you'll be just fine. 3, 6, 9, you drink wine. Put you on your back, you'll be just fine.

HERMES: "Sun" is less immediate than the last Cat Power record, but Chan Marshall is an artist who follows her gut - so much so that for years, she was maybe best-known as the woman who walked off stages mid-set if the performance didn't feel right. It's that visceral quality that makes her music so indelible, and it's here, albeit in a new form. And the more I listen to it, the more potent it gets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SIEGEL: The new Cat Power album is called "Sun." And you can listen to it at NPR.org. Our critic, Will Hermes, is the author of "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEACE & LOVE")

POWER: (Singing) Inside, inside (unintelligible)... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.