On August 29th, 2012, Cat Power (real name Chan Marshall) released her 9th studio album. Indie and electronics meet on this impressive and surprising piece of work.
Her latest album containing original Cat Power material, The Greatest, stemmed from 2006. That album was her most successful yet. It fulfilled the promise completely, artistically as well as commercially. However, problems arose quickly.
A big tour in support of The Greatest was cancelled, due to health problems. The financial consequences of that cancellation even led to a (personal) bankruptcy. Even though work on a sequel to The Greatest began relatively quickly, it would take more than 6 years before Sun was released.
Underway to Sun
One of the first things Cat Power did, was decide to pay for all costs regarding Sun herself, in order to keep control over the product and her financial situation. In 2007 recordings for the successor started in earnest, but were soon stopped after a friend’s remark, that “made me feel like I got shot” (Pitchfork, 06/25/2012). She stopped for about 8 months.
Work was once again postponed when she recorded and released the cover album Jukebox in 2008, after which she developed a relationship with Giovanni Ribisi. Because of that, she wanted to, in her own words, focus on being “a wife”. She devoted a lot of her time to raising Ribisi’s daughter, Lucy (which he had from a previous relationship).
After a while she went to work again on new, electronic, material. “I had no fucking idea what to do, but I knew I was not going to even look at a piano or touch a guitar. So I started out with a weird synthesizer. Eventually I had these skeletons of songs, but then I felt like a failure because I thought, ‘This is not fucking good, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ And I didn’t know what I was doing. I had lyrics and a beat and notes, but I didn’t have anything else. It sounded like a naked, shivering alien.” (Pitchfork, 06/25/2012).
Recordcompany Matador began to worry about the successor and advised Cat Power to hire a producer, which didn’t abide well: “Telling [a musician] they need a producer is like telling someone that they need a nose job. It activates something in you that makes you feel like a loser.” (Pitchfork, 06/25/2012).
In 2011 Cat Power organized a tour with her band (The Dirty Delta Blues). The purpose being that the band would familiarize itself with the new material and consequently record it for the album. During the tour Cherokee, Ruin, Real Life and Human Being were played, as well as a number of songs that didn’t make the album (among them the beautiful Bully, which was released at a later date). In the end, it didn’t meet Cat Power’s expectations. Reportedly, Ruin is the only song on the album that features the band.
Cat Power re-recorded the songs and asked Cassius member Philippe Zdar for help with mixing the album. He was willing to do that, even though Cat Power wasn’t able to pay him, before the album was released. In April of 2012 the album was completed. One month prior boyfriend Ribisi left her for a young(er) actress whom he married soon afterwards. It supposedly crushed her.
The first single off Sun was Ruin, which was offered up as a free download on June 20th, 2012. A beautiful song, which made everyone long for the album, which was released on August 29th, 2012. Sun is completely different from predecessor The Greatest, but fits the tradition of Cat Power albums, in the sense that it is challenging to the listener. The only constant on all albums is the unique, great, husky voice of Cat Power.
The synthesizer is used for the first time on a Cat Power album. The album leans on percussion as well. The instrumentation on the album was primarily played by Cat Power herself.
On April 10th, 2013, Cat Power guested in the TV show Later… with Jools Holland and played, the previously unreleased, Bully. Immediately following the broadcast an adjusted version of Sun was made available through iTunes, which incorporated Bully. Sun was the first Cat Power album to make it to the top 10 in the USA.
The electronic music is new, but fits the album and the songs perfectly. It sounds experimental, emotionally provocative and risky. The album has a great number of highlights: from Cherokee through (first single) Ruin through Human Being to the beautiful Manhattan (which essentially is a dance track). But any album that contains a song like Nothin’ But Time is quickly deemed a masterpiece.
Nothin’ But Time
Nothin’ But Time lasts 11 minutes and is Sun‘s highlight, and arguably in Cat Power’s entire body of work. This song is phenomenal. It is a mantra like song that consists of two chords, that strongly resemble David Bowie’s “Heroes”.
Iggy Pop lends his voice (very gently) to this beautiful, intense, emotional highlight (David Bowie was reportedly asked first). The song was written for Giovanni Ribisi daughter, Lucia, who (apparently) was bullied. But Cat Power, who had sher share of problems with drugs and psychiatric issues, also sings to her younger self: “I’m putting, like, a recycled aluminum-foil crown on her head. And that’s what I had to learn to do myself. No one taught me how to do that except my friends and, like, my dog and the birds and the clear water from the mountain. I spent a lot of my life being afraid of things that did and didn’t exist. I realized how foolish I was – now I’m not afraid.” (Rolling Stone, 30-08-2012).
To Cat Power’s great delight, Lucia once performed the song with her live.
I see you, kid, alone in your room
I see you, kid, you got the weight on your mind
I see 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, and 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
Never, never give away what you always wanted
Never, never ever give in
They wanna live and be somebody
They want to give and be wanted
They want to forgive and not be forgotten
They want to reach the end
They want to live
Their way of living, their way of living
They want to live
Their way of living
You want to live – my way of living
You want to live – my way of living
You want to live – I want to live
You ain’t got nothing but time
And it ain’t got nothing on you
Your world is just beginning
It’s up to you to be a superhero
It’s up to you to be like nobody
© Nothin’ But Time, Cat Power, 2012
All songs written by Chan Marshall (Cat Power).
- Always on My Own
- Real Life
- Human Being
- Silent Machine
- Nothin’ But Time
- Peace And Love
Three singles were culled from the album: Ruin, Cherokee and Manhattan.
Cat Power went on tour, but once again her health turned sour. A tour was planned, which would bring her to Paradiso, Amsterdam on November 26th, 2012. I bought tickets. On October 20th a picture appeared through the catpowerofficial account on Instagram. The picture was taken from the inside of an ambulance with text: “DONT WORRY TORONTO I WILL SEE U ON STAGE TONIGHT-GETTING BEST CANADIAN CARE ??”.
Unfortunately something (once again) was up. Cat Power suffered angioedema (causing abrupt swelling of tissue) in her throat, which can be life-threatening.
On October 31st, 2012, Cat Power announced (on Instagram): “I MAY HAVE TO CANCEL MY EUROPEAN TOUR DUE TO BANKRUPTCY & MY HEALTH STRUGGLE WITH ANGIOEDEMA. I HAVE NOT THROWN IN ANY TOWEL, I AM TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT BEST I CAN DO. HEART BROKEN. WORKED SO HARD. GOT SICK DAY AFTER “SUN” CAME OUT & BEEN STRUGGLING TO KEEP ALL POINTS OF ME IN EQUILIBRIUM : MIND, SPIRIT, BODY HEALTHY CENTERED & GROUNDED. I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN. I FUCKING LOVE THIS PLANET. I REFUSE TO GIVE UP. THOUGH I MAY NEED TO RESTRATAGIZE FOR MY SECURITY & HEALTH.”
The tour was canceled. The shows that did go ahead were inconsistent. Some were (very) bad, some were phenomenal. On July 2nd, 2013, she appeared on the Paradiso, Amsterdam stage. But, it was not good. On top of that, it was not enjoyable to watch either. She was very uneasy and uncomfortable, very nervous and seemed genuinely relieved when the concert was over.
Three years later Cat Power returned to the Netherlands, this time to Utrecht. Despite my earlier encounter, I wanted to try it one more time. This show was not put on in promotion of Sun (of which only Manhattan was played). The show was magical, beautiful and moving. The awkwardness was still there, but she sang like an angel. Phenomenal show.
Do you know this Cat Power album? What is your opinion? Let me know!
Cat Power – The Greatest & Cat Power – Jukebox images: genius.com
Cat Power & Giovanni Ribisi image: microsec.org
Cat Power – Sun image: pitchfork.com
Cat Power & Lucia Ribisi – Nothin’ But Time – Live image: youtube.com
Cat Power – Sun – Ad image: matadorrecords.com
Cat Power 10/20/2012 & Cat Power 10/31/2012 images: instagram.com/catpowerofficial
Cat Power – Utrecht – Vredenburg – 07/06/2016 image: leicanoise.tumblr.com