Cat Power – Wanderer
Chan Marshall's first album in six years as Cat Power is her desert mystic album, firmly marking her as the elder statesperson of shattered and cracked blues
Before filing this review, a quick refresh of the Instagram feed happens to show up the latest post from Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power. Alongside a fairly innocuous, traditional-looking photo of Marshall at a microphone, the caption reads: "Keep striving. Some will tell you, you just aren’t good enough. Fuck ALL of that. Keep striving. (rose emoji, butterfly emoji, rose emoji)."
Cat Power and female vocalists, in general, are often lazily reduced to their vulnerability. There’s no question that Marshall’s unrivalled and distinct voice can convey vulnerability in spades but, as this social media caption pithily shows, through her artistry, she has equally been able to put across her power, accomplishments and defiance – defiance in the face of her critics, defiance in the face of myriad, excruciating physical and mental health problems, defiance in the face of addiction issues. Her new album Wanderer could be seen as a culmination, and total expression, of all of her experiences until now.
When we last properly heard her, back in 2012, it was in one of her best, and most pop compositions: the gleaming Manhattan. Wanderer, in its cover art, style and marketing, is Marshall’s desert mystic album, firmly marking her as the elder statesperson of shattered and cracked blues. It's bookended by the title track and its reprise, first in the form of an angelic, sun-kissed hymnal, and again as a ghostly moonlit fable, one you can imagine being sung as the wanderer leaves the dusty town she has laid bare throughout the course of the record, capped off by a triumphant, though slightly melancholic, horn blast. It’s not the first time the old West has been evoked by an artist this year to portray unabashed confidence.
In between, Marshall uses her voice at the top of its game. She is fighting her corner, proving herself to be on the creative pedestal that not many give her due credit for, even at this point in a storied career. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Lana Del Rey featuring Woman, where they sing in unison, 'Taking the charge, I took the lead,' and later: 'My money’s like a weapon, a tool for me / My cage is a weapon, it’s perfect for me.'
Generally, the song structures are traditional, blues-inflected tales and Marshall carries them with the confidence and independence we know her for, both in their delivery and their content. Midway through, her vocal on Horizon is embellished with some warbled electronics, which are a bit of a misstep, though a brief one.
Proving herself a master of covers once more, her rendition of Stay, a Rihanna song, is heartbreaking, and far sparser than the original. Late album highlight Nothing Really Matters is the bleakest piece on here, and brings to mind Father John Misty’s The Palace. It has an almost demo-like quality – the piano echoes as if being played in some grand, but, crucially, empty hall. Stylistically, Wanderer doesn’t break much new ground for Marshall. What is powerful about this album is her ability to imbue each word with every ounce of what she has lived – as a woman, a mother, an artist.
Listen to: Woman, In Your Face, Nothing Really Matters