Cat Power – Wanderer: “Eerie, bittersweet”
Since her breakthrough in the late ‘90s with Moon Pix, Chan Marshall’s music as Cat Power has continued to shift and evolve, not just with dominant trends in popular music, but also charting the troubled journey of her life. With Wanderer, Marshall seems to perform a retrospective of her musical oeuvre, combining it with her ability to dig up past feelings and put them in a song like few others are able to do. While it’s hard to conceive of Marshall ‘updating’ her genre-transcending sound, her blend of reflection, melancholy, and detachment feels very 2018.
When Marshall was first gaining recognition she was striking both for her capacity for lyrics that could just as well be poems, and her unusual musical production helped along by long-time collaborator X. On Wanderer, the X tracks sound like classic Cat Power: arresting, and slightly off-kilter, exploiting intimacy the way only she knows how to do. The album itself is versatile, drawing heavily from folk instruments and vocal arrangements, as well as a kind of eerie, bittersweet quality that pervades the majority of her songs.
A personal favourite was ‘Me Voy’, which sounds like something out of a western, an unnerving track where Marshall’s vocals sit on top of a beautiful, faint choral arrangement, and a stripped back acoustic guitar. The sweet, plaintive, ‘In Your Face’ is another stand-out from the album, with a distinctive piano arrangement that stops the track from sliding into formulaic. On ‘You Get’, the influences that motherhood has had on Marshall becomes evident. She draws on folksy vocal arrangements, sharing her hard-fought wisdom with us like a parent – “You get what you get on time”.
Without a doubt, Marshall was one of the original world-weary songstresses, opening the door for Lana Del Rey, whom she collaborates with on the simply-named, ‘Woman’. Their voices blend together with unusual beauty, and the track itself has a kind of hypnotic quality, despite its faster pace and larger production (for a Cat Power album at least). It takes some of the best elements of Marshall’s songwriting and embellishes them with the smokey timbre of Del Rey’s distinctive voice. Similarly, a surprising cover of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’, carries the same, haunting tone of the original, but with a uniquely Marshall-esque rhythm.
No one does sadness as eerily as Marshall does, but it’s hard to think of other musicians with the same cult following, as well as critical acclaim. The road hasn’t always been easy, and that is reflected in the often down-trodden tone of this album – but the world makes us weary, and we’re lucky to have artists like Marshall who can take that fact and make something beautiful out of it.