Matador just announced that Cat Power will be releasing a new cd, You Are Free, in Feb. 2003. Though Chan Marshall (she’s Cat Power) put out the Covers Record in 2000, this’ll be the long-awaited follow-up to Moon Pix (1998).
Fans of Marshall have been wondering where she will have gone from the dark, haunting Moon Pix. For those not acquainted with this record, a glance at its lyrics on one of the many websites devoted to her is enough to suggest the poetic, free associative style of her writing. “Say you’ll say the same thing/let us hold fast to saying the same thing,” she sings on “Say,” a mysterious song that might be about two people agreeing to issue the same information to the public, and might be about social convention: “Hope all is well with you, I wish the best for you,” she sings in a possible caricature of social niceties. Yet her voice is devoid of mockery, and what comes next feels genuinely loving: “When no one is around, love will always love you.” I’ve had discussions with friends about what she might be saying in this song – inconclusive ones, of course.
“Metal Heart” is the most beautiful song on the cd — like “King Rides By,” an earlier Marshall masterpiece, it has a musically simple base, but what’s built on top of that is textured and imagistically complex. “You’re losing the calling that you’ve been faking, and I’m not kidding,” she sings of the blank, dreary time that follows a break-up. “Losing the stars right out of the sky.”
Whatever they’re saying, the songs have an eerie power. There’s a darkness in Marshall’s music that’s dangerous to encounter if your own mood is shaky. “Have you ever been to that place? You know the one, I’m not supposed to say,” she sings in “He Turns Down.” Or, has anyone ever heard a more hopeless line than this from “No Sense:” “The moon is so hollow/ What’s the use?” The record, both lyrically and instrumentally, is suffused with heartache and loss. But it’s also crafted with such originality that it’s exhilarating as well as sad. Marshall has a genius for making the ordinary memorable: “We can roll up our jeans/ so the tide won’t get us below the knees…” she sings in “Colors and the Kids.” That kind of matter-of-fact imagery distinguishes her songs, and her voice, above all her voice, can twist any phrase into a resonant, honest, totally affecting lyrical moment.
Marshall is from the South and you can hear it in her haunted wail. She comes from the understated indie rock tradition, but her occasional full-on yell reminds me of blues hollerer Wynonie Harris. Rock critic Steve Tignor once wrote, in a brilliant piece on her in Puncture, that he hoped she’d pursue “the rootsier opportunities in her singing.” One thing seems certain: she’ll never do anything predictable. Despite her erratic live performances, the recorded songs of this American original will always be worth checking out.