Cat Power - The Greatest

As January was winding down and I was wandering around the internet, wading through the eMusic archives and this month's Pitchfork reviews, I felt that January didn't bring much music worth talking about. I gave up and found an interesting artist on an eMusic "dozens" list named Cat Power, a.k.a. Chan Marshall. I downloaded her 2003 album You are Free and became an immediate fan. Her sultry, affecting voice delivers somewhat cryptic lyrics that nonetheless bury themselves under your skin. She plays both the piano and guitar with a moody charm that is, though sometimes simplistic, refreshingly original.

Marshall has just released a new album on Matador Records, entitled The Greatest. Though it doesn't quite live up to it's title, The Greatest does randomly arrive at greatness.

Marshall has previously played it safe within the boundaries of indie rock. The Greatest is her seventh effort and is her most accessible to date, owing to the fact that she is joined not by indie musicians but by legendary Memphis session musicians. These guys are strictly professional and have supposedly played for the likes of Al Green, Neil Young, and Aretha Franklin. This professional accessibility - which evokes the label "Starbucks music" to one Blogcritics reviewer - might mean that the indie rock world snubs Marshall. If, however, Marshall does manage to break into the Starbucks scene, mainstream fans are likely to give The Greatest a warm reception.

The Greatest opens with a triumvirate of the album's best three songs (except for "Love and Communication", which I'll get into later). "The Greatest", about somebody's failed aspirations as a boxer, nails it's intended mood with grace and perfection. A melancholy beat drags down the bittersweet, but endearingly elegant strings as Marshall croons "Once I wanted to be the greatest / Two fists of solid rock." The ballad crushes you under it's sincere depiction, both in lyrics and music, of honest remorse and failure. "Living Proof" wipes away the mournful vibe of "The Greatest", picking up the beat and adding a constant whining organ. "Lived in Bars" begins slowly and carefully, but picks up in mid-song, bursting into a celebratory ditty with repetitive horns and "sho-bops". These first three tracks establish the overall emotional mood of the album; a mood of bittersweet regret, disappointment, and nagging - but comfortable - sadness. These three also showcase the Memphis band at it's best.

The band's overindulgences come up in tracks 4 through 10. Only one of these is honestly bad - the baffling "Where is My Love" - but there isn't much to talk about. The exception is "Willie", a cover of Marshall's own 18 minute song "Willie Deadwilder" about the love between Willie Deadwilder and Rebecca. The lyrics are penned in a Dylan-esque storytelling manner and the band maintains a subdued groove enabling Marshall to show off her sultry vocal talents. Other than this the middle of The Greatest is above average (barely) filler. The band strays a bit too deeply into country-tinges and incessant horns while Marshall seemingly runs out of ideas.

Despite the aforementioned mediocrity, I can recommend The Greatest for three very good reasons. Number one and two are, of course, the opening triumvirate and "Willie". Number three is the closing song, "Love and Communication." Dropping the album's mood, which by this point becomes overbearing, it assaults you with heavy guitar (without the wearing country-tinge), a driving beat, and staccato strings. Marshall's voice floats atop the noise sounding more comfortable and natural than at any other moment on the album. I predict "Love and Communication" ending up on a few "best of 2006" lists. If you are looking for a more complete Cat Power album (minus the filler), I would recommend checking out You are Free. Canada phone cards India phone cards France phone cards Russia phone cards UK phone cards USA phone cards Bizon phone card Jupiter calling card Mozart calling card Continental calling card

1 comment:

Lodo Grdzak said...

Your font is too small.

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