In a sentence:
Chan Marshall’s first Cat Power album in six years, ‘Wanderer’, is a succinct re-statement of all the musical values that make her such a cult icon.
Wanderer, the tenth album from the blues-rooted, husky-voiced singer-songwriter Cat Power (originally Chan Marshall), sets off with a dreamy, almost choral minute of a delicate weave of wispy vocals laid upon each other. That’s the eponymously named track ‘Wanderer’, inviting the listener into probably the most grounded and established Cat Power release yet. Released on Domino after breaking off years of collaboration with Matador after the label demanded yet another ‘hit’ record and undoubtedly informed by recent shake-ups in Power’s personal life (like having a son, who can be seen on the cover art), Wanderer is full of mature strength and clear direction that only an experienced songwriter can exude.
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It’s not grungy (like some earlier Cat Power releases) and it’s not too exciting in production (like her previous release Sun six years back), but Wanderer has a rhythm and a flow. Mainly consisting of piano, guitar and layered vocals, it has its more complex moments in the smart twists of Cat Power’s lyrics, while the instrumentation takes a back seat. The track ‘You Get’ is a melodic yet staccato-esque confrontation with the way time has control over all of us and brings destiny in its own way. It bleeds into the self-asserting ballad ‘Woman’, the first single of Wanderer, recorded after most of the album was done with the help of none other than Lana Del Rey. The two echo each other as well as doubling on some words and make the song a sort of sisterhood chant, not necessarily reflecting the female experience as a whole, but the experience of these two women that understand each other and have developed a close kinship.
‘Woman’ houses a true feeling of intimacy, without losing its assertive identity edge. The piano ballad ‘Horizon’ calls upon the complexities of familial relationships in leaving one’s closest ones behind while setting upon a search for stability elsewhere. Trickles of AutoTune strike as a surprise, but with the repetitive backing of a piano, it’s a smart twist. The most commercially rooted yet most soulful sounding is Cat Power’s interpretation of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’. The song’s changes in structure go hand in hand with the bare instrumentation that leaves plenty of space to re-experience the famous pop ballad, and to find new intimacy where before it might have been less apparent before.
‘Black’ houses some of the cleverest Cat Power lyrics on death and being mindful of one’s choices (“Oh, who’s lookin’ at ya? / Who was a good kid when God was lookin’ after ya? / Whoa, who’ll make it through? / How was I to know it would’ve done this to you?”), yet after the kooky Americana track, the album starts to feel a tiny bit stale. Its lack of dynamism is probably why Wanderer is unlikely to be the album that brings a new generation of listeners on the ride that is Cat Power’s musical career that went from grungy to soulful to poppy in its own unique ways.
Nevertheless, Marshall’s songwriting prowess and the underlining feeling that all she puts out is her own tried and tested truth is something that stands proud against the test of time. Just like that, Wanderer is a solid Cat Power release. Maybe not the most surprising one, but one that makes utmost sense to those who’ve been following Cat Power’s career through the years and hold her music dear. “I wanted to create something that was minimal in balance but would remind me that each song is not a message but a totem” – said Chan Marshall in a recent interview, concluding how Wanderer wasn’t meant to be this musically polarising release. It’s a statement in brilliant lyricism, honed over years of experience and which values integrity over the glitz and glam of producing a ‘hit’ record. (7/10) (Aiste Samuchovaite)
Listen to Wanderer by Cat Power here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: Aiste Samuchovaite, album, Cat Power, Chan Marshall, Domino, review, Wanderer
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