Sun, out this week on
Matador, is our gal’s first proper album in six years. Or, how Chan Marshall
learned to stop anguishing and love the bomb, er, herself.
By Mark Jenkins
On her first album of original material in six
years, Chan “Cat Power” Marshall
has something new to say, and a new way to say it. Rather than chronicle her
anguish and doubt, Sun preaches
confidence and hope. And it does so with synth-heavy music whose every note,
reportedly, was played or programmed by Marshall.
If the album’s style is surprising, it’s Marshall’s
disposition that’s startling. Musically, Sun is only partially unprecedented. Electrobeats drive the tunes, and synthetic
textures dominate such numbers as “Real Life” and the title track.
Yet guitar (both acoustic and electric) and piano are also prominent, and the
melodies draw on the soul and gospel traditions that have long inspired the
singer-songwriter. The opening “Cherokee,” for example, has a busy,
buzzing dance-floor sound, but the refrain’s multi-tracked chorale pulls the
song back to church.
It’s hard to urge optimism without dispensing
greeting-card sentiments, and Marshall
doesn’t always succeed. On the 11-minute “Nothing but Time,” the
singer (and guest vocalist Iggy Pop) offer words of encouragement to her
ex-boyfriend’s teenage daughter: “It’s up to you to be a superhero,” she
counsels — a line any self-respecting adolescent would greet with a snicker.
The guitar-driven “Peace and Love” is simpler and stronger: “I’m
a lover, but I’m in it to win.”
on-stage crises of confidence are well-documented, so this album’s affirmations
are welcome. But they work best when boosted with a little attitude, as on
“Ruin,” which uses a Latin-pop piano riff to remind listeners that
it’s not all about her (or us): “Some people ain’t got shit to eat,”
she protests. On Sun, Chan Marshall
is so sure of herself that she’s prepared to confront not just romance’s
injustice, but also the world’s.