Back in the day, when I were a lad (as we say up North), I’m about 80% sure that one of my big life events occurred whilst listening to Cat Power’s You Are Free. Which life event it was I will leave to your imagination but this, combined with the fact that I was a big Cat Power fan beforehand, means that I do quite like Chan Marshall’s music.
That aside, I will try to remain as unbiased as possible in this review. I must begin by saying that Sun is a pretty good album on the whole, however, if, like me, you’ve grown up a lot since her last release of original songs six years ago you need to be prepared not for a nostalgia trip but to listen to a Chan Marshall evolved by time out, relationship breakdowns, hospitalisations and bankruptcy. This results in an evolution from slow guitars and moody pianos to edgy drums and well-placed, tasteful samples (I’m pretty positive that I love a probably-unintentional nod to Assassin’s Creed on opening track ‘Cherokee’)
The first three tracks are a real statement of intent for the album and they showcase the evolution I spoke of above. Ever since I gained the attention span to listen to an entire album I have felt, as I am sure most people reading this do, that the first 2-4 tracks of any album need that power to drag you in and hold you until the last track (think ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘In Bloom’, ‘Come As You Are’). ‘Cherokee’, ‘Sun’ and ‘Ruin’ did just that for me, from the swooping choruses of the first track, through ‘Sun’s brooding synthesizer and the journey of ‘Ruin’. After this opening, the involvement of Cassius’ Philippe Zdar on the album is no longer a surprise.
Some semblance of order for Cat Power purists returns on the fourth track ‘3, 6, 9’ which, besides vocal effects a-plenty, feels more You Are Free-era. The song places the focaliser of in an alcohol tainted relationship, saying “I feel alone/I want out/I want on my own/I want everything I own” over a bouncy piano that shouldn’t fit the song but, combined with Marshall’s fantastic vocals, just does.
One negative that I find with Sun is that it does drag on a bit, especially from track 8 (‘Manhatten’) onwards and ‘peaking’ with the 11-minute epic which is ‘Nothin’ But Time’ after briefly being rescued by the bouncy and guitar-led ‘Silent Machine’. ‘Nothin’ But Time’ is a good song, or would be were it not exceptionally samey for its entirety. For those who managed to stick it out to the last track, ‘Peace And Love’ is a decent closer, which revisits some of the themes that Chan Marshall explores on the album (especially on ‘Ruin’). It really is a shame that it is placed after the slogfest that is ‘Nothin’ But Time’.
So, to recap, if you haven’t listened to Cat Power since the release of The Greatest, don’t expect more of the same as this is one of those ‘evolutionary’ albums. It’s good, not spectacular; a strong starter and a slow finisher.
Released on 3rd September 2012 by PIAS