It has been some time since we have heard any new music from Chan Marshall, AKA Cat Power. Her last album of cover versions, Jukebox, was released in 2008 and it was two years earlier that she released The Greatest, her last album of original material. The Greatest was a collaboration with Al Green’s musicians and showed a fuller more soulful sound when compared to her earlier work. Sun is both a move backwards and a move forwards taking in the more sparse sounds of her earlier albums along with a new embracing of digital studio production sounds.
Sun is one of those albums that I instinctively wanted to love from the outset. Cat Power is such a singular artist, with a unique vocal style, and I was a big fan of The Greatest and her earlier work, but Sun just doesn’t quite hit the mark with me. It is by no means a bad album, and has plenty of points to recommend it, but the sound and style seems a little badly conceived.
Opening track ‘Cherokee’ is a case in point, the layered vocals and sounds seem overdone and amateuris and suggest someone who has spent too much time tinkering with the song. ‘Sun’ suffers a similar fate and at times it just feels like something has gone wrong in the recording process.
The simpler songs fair better and the piano lead ‘Ruin’ works much better, and the melody and vocal combination are good enough to excuse some rather clumsy lyrics. Another stand-out track is the lovely ‘Manhattan’ which floats along beautifully and shows off Marshall’s vocal skills perfectly.
In general the musical compositions on the album are good, and the playing of a high standard – including contributions on guitar by Blues Explosion veteran Judah Bauer. Marhsall’s vocals are excellent throughout, and the over-layering of them on some of the tracks is the worst kind of lily-gilding.
This is an album with plenty of good elements to recommend it, and I can hear an excellent album trying to get out. When it falls back on vocals, melody and simple production it is at its best, when the more heavy handed production elements come to the fore it starts to fall apart. All in all it suggests that Chan Marshall needs less time, not more, to produce an album that truly reflects her unique talents.
By Dorian Rogers