Cat Power’s amateurish animal magic
Cat Power Domino
Chan Marshall has been making music under the name Cat Power for 25 years. She’s a maverick singer-songwriter who documents pain and joy, struggle and recovery, with a quietly searing intensity. Wanderer is her 10th album and the first on her new label, Domino.
Marshall claims her previous label, Matador, the respected US independent, rejected Wanderer, and asked her to record it again. To demonstrate where she was going wrong, an executive helpfully played her an Adele album, and told her that was how a record was supposed to sound. As crass as that may seem, I can’t help feeling that the unnamed Matador executive had a point.
Wanderer is unpolished and underpowered, more like a series of demos than a finished album. Production (by Marshall herself) is minimal: basic guitar, tinkly piano and soft voices are occasionally supported by frankly rather pedestrian drums and a plodding bass. At times you can hear tape hiss amid the creaking of piano pedals and other ambient noise. Frankly, I doubt Adele herself could get this into the pop charts, not even with Ed Sheeran on backing vocals and a freestyle rap by Kanye West.
Which all misses the point entirely. Marshall is a performer who compels you to focus, to enter her private world. And then, if you are quiet, you may start to really hear her, and magic happens. It’s in her hushed voice, the emotion she brings to everything she sings, the sense of hardearned understanding burning through sometimes cryptic lyrics. She creates a subdued atmosphere of such sombre gravity that when you catch a bright melody or illuminating phrase, it’s like a shaft of sunlight breaking through storm clouds.
Pointedly, in the only track recorded after her break with Matador, Marshall has enticed a real
She reinvents a Rihanna power ballad as a gentle wisp of longing