Some artists, Chan Marshall included, build such a personal, intimate bond with their listeners through their music that it often feels bizarre or perverse to attempt to be subjective about it. But subjective we must be.
Much like her friend, and influence, Nick Cave, Chan’s music as Cat Power vacillates wildly between sombre, blue and broken-hearted right to the other end of the spectrum, sounding like sheer existential ennui committed to tape. On Wanderer, we get a lot of the former, and a flavour – mostly through the lyrics – of the latter.
Produced by Marshall and mixed by Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck and others), the album includes a notable appearance by Lana Del Rey. The track she appears on, “Woman”, is both the longest track on the record, and the most intriguing. It opens with Chan’s plaintive, wistful voice against a stark backdrop, before Lana’s honeyed croon wraps itself around Marshall’s like toffee on an apple.
Across the whole thing, she returns to the dustbowl-blues and antique, tobacco-stained country she pushed on previous works You Are Free and The Greatest. She’s largely abandoned the electronic sheen she cultivated on Sun and in many ways, her sound is just as good without those trappings as it ever was with them. Of course, it just brilliant to hear her voice set against something as ubiquitous and complementary as piano – as it is on the fantastic “Nothing Really Matters”.
Another highlight is “Stay”, which has a haunted, Moon Pix quality to it – it's also completely removed from its original context (it’s a cover of the Rihanna mega-hit). If you were less than completely familiar with the Rihanna version, you’d never know it was a cover.
Trump-baiting “In Your Face” is another great track – the lyrics are acidic, biting. However, “Horizon” has a slight – miniscule – flaw, in its use of Auto-Tune. It adds a jarring, oddly comedic bent to a track that really didn’t need any bells or whistles. Or squelchy robot voices.
About ten minutes in, you realise that she’s done it again. This is simply another great Cat Power record. There’s pain and perseverance in every note sung on every Cat Power record, and this is simply another in a long line of fantastic records. Maybe it’s a little lighter, a little more carefree, a little sparer than her last few – or maybe it’s just that she doesn’t sound so hurt – but this feels like a step into something fresh. If not a creative rebirth, then a creative renewal.