Wanderer Cat Power Domino Things have changed in the life of Chan Marshall, the human behind the mercurial Cat Power. Some of them are on the cover of her 10th album: a battered acoustic guitar, indicating that this is yet another right turn from the previous record, the keys and beats of 2012’s commercially successful Sun; a small towheaded child (her three-year-old son); and a Domino logo, marking her unexpected and less-than-amicable departure from Matador Records.
The six years between Sun and Wanderer also presented several challenges. Mental health and addiction issues that have made her such a notoriously hit-and-miss live performer were sidelined by an auto-immune disorder that threatened to end her touring career altogether.
Add politics and motherhood, and you get Wanderer, an album of quiet, almost subversive ambition. Its title and sleeve suggest a folk record by a travelling musician banging out popular tunes in front bars and beer gardens, which may explain why Matador reportedly rejected the album and pressed a copy of Adele’s into Marshall’s hands as an indication of what was expected from her. And, to be fair, this most assuredly is not.
That troubadour spirit is immediately evoked in her piano and cello deconstruction of Rihanna’s Stay, harking back to her spectral version of the Stones’ Satisfaction more than a decade ago. But single Woman — a duet with one-time touring partner Lana Del Rey — is an extraordinary piece of work, growing from a loping blues to a chorus Fleetwood Mac would be proud of, before ebbing back out like a tide. There’s a protest song of sorts in the form of In Your Face, and it’s hard to avoid speculating that the quasiSpanish of Me Voy is a message to a nation where Mexican children are kept in borderland immigration camps.
I defy anyone not to be punched by Black’s jauntily casual tale of a near-overdose: “First I was amused, close to death ever been / But when the white light went away I knew death was setting in.” And that line neatly sums up the spirit of the album, where darkness and light are cheek by jowl at all times. That said, those arresting moments come in what is otherwise an album that flows from one song to the next with little obvious variation.
That’s not a bad thing by any stretch, but it makes it harder for new listeners to find something they can grab on to. As a result, any fans of Rihanna or Del Rey — or, for that matter, Adele — who figure they may have a casual listen through their “related artists” tab may be in for a rather more harrowing audio journey than they expected.