On first listen, Sun doesn’t offer that satisfying feeling of perfect completion that 2006’s bluesy turning point The Greatest had, or even the ability to be named immediately as a record to complement a mood the way, well, most of Chan Marshall’s previous records could appropriately supply the soundtrack to a bleak evening alone. And it’s possible that, had it been released on time, in 2008, and not been scrapped and redone to show proof of personal growth, the record might indeed hark back to her earlier catalog. But god, Sun’s a grower.
“Manhattan” is gorgeous and uses Marshall’s own sparse multi-instrumentation to make music out of a late night New York walk; “Human Being” is an attempt at being political without letting politics interfere. Undoubtedly, what stands out about Sun is that it’s a record demonstrative of a reborn Marshall—in middle age (and sobriety) she’s suddenly woken up and begun to shout out that there is a world outside of her, and she’s looking to make up for lost time by preaching empathy, and pointing out how first-world our problems are when, fuck, there are so many greater things at which to direct our concern. She’s consistent about making this point in her interviews, as well, and having followed her personal history, ridden with drug use, the death of friends, the infidelity of lovers, it makes all too much sense that her longtime depression and alcoholism have been mistaken for a mere bit of “crazy” when in fact her lowest point is completely indicative of the life that preceded it. This record, the moment when she tells those less fortunate that it gets better, or those more fortunate that their complaints are bullshit when uttered next to those who have nothing, are the equivalent of going through rehab and suddenly finding solace in religion, and realizing at once that it is her duty to save others.
Iggy Pop provides backing vocals on “Nothin’ but Time,” acting as somewhat of a suitable comrade in getting it together later in life; the song is a nod to the idea that it’s never too late to fix your life and make it what it ought to be. While I’d love to make the argument, based on the first couple tracks of Sun, that Marshall had unfortunately hit her peak with The Greatest, a record born out of experience that is largely relatable because she appropriated her language to the feeling of rock bottom so effectively, it’s upon reaching “Nothin’ but Time” that you realize how capable she is of being sincere, even having reached a better place.
But what ruins Sun—the only regrettable point—is “Peace and Love.”
“Peace” is an awkward ending point that solidifies the hint of hip hop influence speckled throughout the record—Marshall is well-known for her love of the genre—and is built over chords of suspense that somehow recall Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Needless to say, “Nothin’ but Time” would’ve been a great conclusion to Sun, and given Marshall a sunny point at which to leave off and let her next record pick up. Instead, the transition between tracks is both jarring and allows her to conclude on an unambiguous tone of bitterness, bringing inconsistency to an album that otherwise promotes awareness and change. [Matador]
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