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Album review: Cat Power's 'Sun'

September 04, 2012|By Randall Roberts
(Austin Conroy / Matador…)

Admit it. You thought you had Cat Power's Chan Marshall pegged — and maybe grown a little nervous that her smooth, smoky voice and increasingly carefree demeanor had settled into a blue-eyed soul groove that would soundtrack hipster dinner parties through the next decade. But "Sun" will prove you wrong. A big, confident, and captivating pop album that's so far removed from her Memphis-inspired previous album of originals "The Greatest" (In between, she released an album of covers called "Jukebox"), as to suggest the work of young mind with a remarkable career ahead of her, "Sun" is Marshall's best album since Moon Pix in 1998. And it's probably better.

Recorded over five years in three different locations, including at a studio in her former Malibu home and at Aaron Embry's The Boat Studio in Silver Lake, "Sun" is a modern record, featuring electronics, drum machines, and grand synthesizer noise that intrudes on otherwise gentle tracks with a confident abrasion. Its many highlights include "3,6,9," in which Marshall synthetically layers her voice dozens of times, harmonizing with herself, while belting out the chorus: "Three, six, nine, you drink wine/Monkey on your back you feel just fine."

Though you can hear R&B within this album's indie rock backdrop, it's more in the Justin Timberlake "LoveSexy/FutureSounds" vein than the Al Green "Let's Stay Together" template Marshall used on "The Greatest." "Manhattan" is a rolling love letter propelled by simple piano chords and a thin rhythm that grows bigger as the song progresses, as though Kraftwerk kidnapped the song halfway through. The only miscue is the album's centerpiece, the 10-minute "Nothin' but Time," which features Iggy Pop clumsily crooning along with Marshall. Though it's a courageous, understandable choice – who wouldn't want to sing along with a Stooge? – Pop's warble wounds the song, and its length serves little purpose. But the joy of "Sun" is that Pop can't kill it. Rather, his gruffness only serves to make the confident, singular music Marshall has created shine that much brighter.

Cat Power
"Sun"
Matador Records
3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

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