Scott Creney

REVIEWED IN WORDS: Cat Power – Sun (Matador)

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Cat Power - Sun album sleeve

By Scott Creney

Say what you want to about Buffalo Tom [sure. Their first couple of albums were GREAT, lovely lovely guys too – Ed], but when they played an in-store at Newbury Comics in the fall of 1998 [1] during my first week of college, the bass player took advantage of a lull in the set to urge us all to buy a copy of the new Cat Power album Moon Pix. I’m still grateful for the suggestion. 

I would have come across it anyway though. That album was pretty much ubiquitous in the bedrooms of my fellow students, particularly the female ones. I have a lot of memories — passionate, tender, and ultimately self-destructive memories — that involve that album. If you see Moon Pix in your partner’s collection, there is a better-than-average chance you are about to experience something incredible, eventually followed by something tragic. [2]

Now Sun comes along, nearly 14 years to the day that Moon Pix came out. And I can’t help comparing the two albums — they’re each like this weird, mirrored antithesis of the other. Even the titles play up the difference. Sun vs. Moon, the latter a cold, lifeless satellite that produces no light of its own, only able to reflect the brightness of others.

They’re also the two most brilliant things she’s ever done. There are electronic instruments. But they are incidental, not integral, to the album.

Sun isn’t as haunting as Moon Pix, but it’s every bit as full. It’s the first Cat Power album that isn’t afraid to look you in the eye. [3] You can dance to it. It’s sexy and confident in a way that makes you feel sexy and confident. [4] It’s a personal triumph as much as a musical one.

None of this would matter if Chan Marshall had gone soft — the way Van Morrison drifted from the exposed abcess of Astral Weeks into the comfort of Moondance, or Joanna Newsom abandoned the devastation of Ys for the saccharine and homey Have One On Me. But on Sun, Marshall has found a way to step into the light without sacrificing her art in the process.

A song like ‘Human Being’ find her every bit as haunting, as in touch with the vague tragedies and fleeting moments of victory, as she’s ever been. Sadly, most of these songs aren’t linkable, embeddable. Go stream it — there’s a stretch in the middle of the album, from ‘Always On My Own’ through ‘Manhattan’, that stands head and shoulders next to (or above) anything she’s ever done [5].

‘Nothin But Time’ is the standout, an 11-minute epic of optimism and triumph. It shares a similar melody and chord structure with Moon Pix’s ‘The Color And The Kids’, and both songs are about finding transcendence. But 14 years ago, Marshall could only find joy in observing others. In ‘Nothin But Time’ she’s right there in the middle of it, no longer numb. It sounds like a glorious victory lap, and why the hell not? She’s earned it. We all have.

Nearly all the people I knew back then, when Moon Pix led into The Covers Record and our bodies were roadmaps of scratches and accidents, are in a better place than we were 14 years ago. Our nerves don’t shake the way they used to. We’re no longer afraid of the daylight. We gravitate towards sexual experiences that connect rather than disconnect. Reality is, on most days, almost bearable.

Moon Pix sounded diseased, almost sick in its fullness of experience. Sun is the cure, and it might be even more profound. Twin masterpieces. One pill makes you larger, and the other one makes you live.

[1] Promoting a terrible, terrible album called Smitten. While I still stand by 1992’s Let Me Come Over, by this time BT were well past their sell-by date. Still, I had just moved from El Cajon, Ca. to Boston, and was thrilled to be in a big city where things like this happened.
[2] But ultimately beautiful and enriching, assuming you both live through it.
[3] The album art makes this literal.
[4] As opposed to making you feel horny and alone.
[5] It starts right after ‘3,6,9’, a song that makes me cringe in its wine-induced swagger. It’s the only low point of the album.

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REVIEWED IN PICTURES: Cat Power – Sun (Matador)

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