When contemporary rock queen Cat Power, born Chan Marshall, emerged from the depths of her spiralling stage anxiety and substance abuse in 2008 with Jukebox, her last release of cover songs, the industry applauded her triumphant transformation and confident spin on two handfuls of old folk and bluesy classics. Cat was back, and the world had waited with bated breath to see how she was going to do it.
Jukebox was an incredibly poised materialization of the indie goddess’ trampled insecurities and newfound healthy defiance – but what would come next would be the real deal, the ultimate signifier of her revival, the comeback of the musical mastermind we came to worship when she first leaned weakly over a microphone in a dingy New York bar.
And with Tuesday’s release of Sun – the musician’s first full-length, self-written, self-produced album in over six years – now we can say that Cat is truly back. And with a pretty kind of vengeance.
Sun, this long anticipated five-years-in-the-making kind of album finally transpired – but not without its major roadblocks. Initial hesitation about Marshall’s ability to produce her own album and play all of her own instruments garnered a middle finger from the shy artist. A mid-recording break-up after four years with Hollywood actor Giovanni Ribisi led to Marshall chopping her long locks back off and dedicating a blissful ballad to his teenage daughter whom she grew to love. Popular new instruments intimidated her yesteryear soulful repertoire – yet she plugged in the synth, making it one of the most heavily heard noises on the album.
Like I said, Cat has been reborn.
And the result is the most confident, dazzling album you could have ever expected from the introverted indie sensation; one whose popularity was founded on eight classic albums such as 1998’s Moon Pix – a haunting (yet critically-acclaimed) peak into the then-struggling artist’s timid existence, featuring subdued nuggets of grungy genius like the original version of “Metal Heart” and the breathtaking “Colours and the Kids.” Albums like this and 2006’s The Greatest – a collection of duelling mournful and funky Southern-inspired jams that still erected her tattered demons at points – were near-masterpieces of their time, but on a very different level from Marshall’s 2012 uprising.
Like some sort of bright revelation, Sun is a swooning sort of beautiful from start to finish; a sigh of relief to fans who remember her as a curious recluse that hated the sound of her voice, apologized constantly, asked if people were mad at her and possessed a sad disbelief in her own talent. On the title track, the album commences with growling undertones and atmospheric keyboard effects amidst Power chanting “We’re free with me, we can finally run” – setting a bold tone off the bat. The waltzy rhythm and perfectly auto-tuned harmonies of “3,6,9” make it an immediate highlight – fit for a sassy single or impromptu ladies-only line-dance. Maintaining heroic storytelling themes throughout the middle of the album, the final songs skyrocket the LP into brilliance. “Manhattan,” a twinkling two-chord piano ode to the city that nursed her early career, is exactly as bright as the skyline – bubbling more by the second with layered heartbeat percussion and multiple Cat’s crooning.
On “Nothin’ But Time,” what I believe to be one of the artist’s most magical songs to date, Power preaches to Ribisi’s daughter during the 11-minute piano anthem which momentarily features Iggy Pop’s wobbly vocals and coats her own gorgeous, pleading harmonies over top of each other. Telling the teenager, “Your world is just beginning/ And I know this life seems never-ending/ But you got nothing but time/ And it ain’t got nothing on you,” Power reassures the teenager – and us, and maybe herself, as well. Whoever she’s speaking to, it’s never been more believable.
The whole album is on shelves and available for stream here on NPR.