Cat Power CD review [Matador]

Music Reviews
Cat Power CD review [Matador]
Feb 18, 2003, 20:38



Fear, violence and ambiguity is known to anyone, but nothing embodies that dreamlike quality where the feeling of each emotion encompasses every moment of our existence more than Cat Power. Certainly, Chan Marshall's reputation as a mercurial performer precedes her, but it's her songs that truly matter, and few others have provided such an open invitation to their innermost thoughts with such assertive candor and intrigue. To say that her songs are emotional and personal is obvious. But her ability to reveal things about herself and her own darkest thoughts while wrapping them in aphoristic words and seemingly prosaic declarations is her true genius. And then there's that voice: like a haunting sound from the past; like an old 78 played just slightly too fast.

You Are Free—without a doubt one of the top five albums of 2003—is a murky, warm, eerie, brave, forceful and frighteningly decentralized masterpiece aided and abetted by producer Adam Kasper (Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters) and big name sidemen Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder and Warren Ellis. Never during the 14-song album does Marshall seem cloying or yearning for us to “feel her pain.” Instead she thinks out loud, saying things in an obtuse manner that speaks for her as much as it speaks for us all.

The album opens with “I Don't Blame You,” a delicate piano ballad that seems to be a requiem for Kurt Cobain as well as an expression of her own resentment toward her audience wanting her to do their bidding instead of the other way around. She sings, “last time I saw you/You were on stage/your hair was wild, your eyes were blank/ you were in a rage/ You were swinging your guitar around/ because they wanted to hear that song/ you didn't want to play./ I don't blame you/ …What a cruel price you thought you had to pay. “ From there, Marshall digs deeper into bitter experiences and pained affirmations that seem somehow so powerful, yet detached, that she might as well be the listener's own voice.

Musically, You Are Free is solid all the way through. Slightly-overdriven guitars that sound as if they were recorded direct to the mixing board ring out with the endearing intimacy of a home 4-track recording. Grohl's drumming on three tracks is as perfectly stated as ever—here, adding finesse that is equal to his playing on Nirvana's Unplugged performance. In general, nearly all the songs consist of a single lead instrument accompanying her voice, plus a variety of support instruments (violin, cello, piano, backing harmonies, et al). It's simple, direct and incredibly effective. And, Kasper's nearly claustrophobic, up front mix perfectly captures the haunting feel of each song. It's an underlying irony to all Marshall's songs herein—”You Are Free”, “Good Woman,” “Keep On Runnin'” especially—were each captured in the vice grip of freedom. [Matador]

-Dave Clifford

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