Friday, 14 December 2012

Cat Power - Sun

I listened to this record once and then I was too afraid to return to it. 
When I was fifteen years old, during a Summer break that changed a lot of things for me in terms of music and film, I was looking for a cover version of Wonderwall that had been playing on the radio, and hers was one that came up. It wasn't the one I'd been looking for, but her voice was captivating enough to seek out more songs - and the one that really drew me in, the one that I played over and over again, was Nude as the News off her 1998 record What Would the Community Think. It's still my favourite, ten years later, but what has changed is that I used to want her to go back to that place, because it meant so much to me, so I overlooked the brilliance of The Greatest because apart from Hate, it seemed like such a departure from her earlier work.
Never knew love like this
The sun, the sea you and I
Never knew pain
Never knew shame
Now I know why  
cat power; cherokee
I remember when Sun was announced, years before Jukebox came out. It would be her first record of original material since The Greatest. Then came nothing for a long time (apparently, one of her friends was not happy with the original version of Sun, so she started from scratch). 
The first impression of Sun is that the core of it, the singing, the lyrics, very much resemble what came before The Greatest, but the instrumentation is much more complex compared to the early days of just one guitar (one of my favourite tracks off You Are Free is Free, one instrument after the other joins in, which makes the song seem more vulnerable, more scattered, than it would be if it only featured on instrument). Sun has electronics. Chan's voice almost seems muffled at times, just another strand of sounds within the arrangements. I find the titular track difficult to listen to, but it works for Ruin, the best song on Sun. Compared to the intense intimacy of Names (one of the most brutal and beautiful on You Are Free), the song has a political scope, a clearly articulated concern ("Bitching, complaining when some people who ain't got shit to eat [...] What are we doing?  / We're sitting on a ruin"). The piano hooks you, but it's the clarity of the lyrics, the anger, that make it clear how far Chan Marshall has come in these eight years. There are other songs deeply personal (3, 6, 9 and Always on My Own), but Sun is at its best when it tells haunting stories with a greater scope. 
I met a doctor, he want to be a dancer
I met a mother, she want to be alone
I met a preacher, he want to be sinister
I met a kid, he want to be unknown  
cat power; real life
There are the drone sounds of Human Being (a more quiet favourite), hypnotic as ever, a song about the right to choose your own life, to be angry and artistic, a beautiful take on the pursuit of happiness. 
Silent Machine is cryptic but a gorgeous driven song on its own. 
I see you, kid, You got the weight on your min
You're just trying to get by but your world is just beginning
And I know this life seems never-ending
It's up to you, It's up to you you know
It's only time, it ain't' got nothing on you
It's nothing but time, and it ain't got nothing on you
Never give away, never give away your body
Never, never give away your friends
Ever, never give away what you always wanted
Never, never ever give in 
cat power feat. iggy pop; nothing but time
Sometimes, Sun seems like it would accompany The Mountain Goats' Transcendental Youth well - it's a different take on "just stay alive". On Peace and Love, the closing song, the narrator declares that she's "a lover but I'm in it to win". Something's changed, and I can't wait to see where she goes next. 

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