Cat Power – Sun

Cat Power has purged her inner demons to create a party record, with unabashed pop hooks and a buzzing agitated momentum, writes DOUG WALLEN.

A rebirth, Chan Marshall calls this. It’s there on the album cover, where she looks newly cleansed and at peace, and in the title. And of course, in the fact that she self-produced and played almost everything on this ninth Cat Power album. Her longtime band has sat this one out and she’s doing originals again. She’s also trying new things, embracing bubbly DIY pop, electronics and rap braggadocio.

And you know what? It suits her, all of it. But the real story here is Chan Marshall as a survivor, purging her inner demons (alcoholism among them) in the form of upbeat revelations that move fast and are light on their feet. She loads Sun with unabashed pop hooks and a buzzing, agitated momentum, as if she can’t risk losing the steam she has built up. The songs almost fall over each other as she tries to get each new one out, making for a cathartic album that’s anything but tough to get through. This is a celebration, after all. A Cat Power party record.

The catchiest song is ‘3.6.9’, a dance-able joy that turns lyrics about excess and addiction into sing-it-with-me refrains. Looking at the lyric sheet and hearing the song those lyrics are tucked into, it’s like night and day. Marshall has found a way to get at the heart of her troubles without sinking under their weight. Instead they’re pushing her in the opposite direction, giving her sudden upward force.

“Marshall has found a way to get at the heart of her troubles without sinking under their weight.”

This may not sit well with everyone. Some longtime fans may bristle at the svelte pop manoeuvres and like-minded production touches. But surely they’ll pick up on the gravity of her words and her subject matter and see just how vital they are. And if some songs seem more disposable than others at the outset, like ‘Human Being’ and the club-teasing title track, they soon feel just as rock solid. ‘Cherokee’ is an obvious opener and single, dreamily introducing that instantly familiar voice but growing into something leaner and meaner – like a more developed, higher-stakes answer to Cat Power’s 1998 single ‘Crossbones Style’.

Even better, though, is ‘Manhattan’: threadbare yet buoyant, urgent both in its cheery energy and cutting choice of words. The one song to feature her touring band, including Dirty Three drummer Jim White, ‘Ruin’ rides an almost Latin-sounding piano hook to a contagious bass line and Stones-y guitar licks while Marshall doles out globetrotting lyrics that don’t ignore economic disaster.

Then there’s ‘Nothing But Time’, recalling Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ in all the right ways. Iggy Pop sings on it, and it’s more empowering than anything here: “You’ve got nothing but time/And it ain’t got nothing on you.” It runs to 10 minutes thanks to a final feel-good instrumental ramble, all of it setting the stage for the irreverent closer ‘Peace and Love’, which nods to both Nina Simone and Black Flag, takes jabs at the post-Internet music industry and features the closest Marshall has come yet to straight-up rapping. It’s like Black Lips’ ‘The Drop I Hold’, but more from the heart: “I may be a lover, but I’m in it to win.”

It’s the perfect successor to the previous song: first Marshall tells us we can do anything we want in this world, and then she goes ahead and leads by example.