Take one glimpse at Cat Power and you’ll know you’re looking at someone with experience beyond years. Everything about her emanates an old, tattered soul — from her dark eyes, framed in even darker makeup smears, to the torn flannel shirts that hang from her frame. But no matter how weathered Power seems, the singer/song-writer will never fade: Her songs and presence whisper ancient wisdom, but flicker with enough new life to keep from going stale.
Even now, with nine albums and nearly 20 years of performing under her belt, the brunette beauty is showing no signs of slowing down. Sun, her newest release, is ripe with the same musky sadness that characterizes her work but is far from falling flat: Its blend of peppy beats and achy passion swells with classic Cat allure.
While breezy guitars and percussion kick the album off on an easygoing note, “Cherokee” proves to be anything but lighthearted. Deeper, more pensive piano keys root the music back down just as quickly as it took off. It’s a laid-back sound, but Power makes sure it isn’t sugarcoated. The lyrics, too, keep the song from ever fully leaving the ground: An airy-sounding chorus is quickly balanced with darker hues, heartbreaking as Power wallows in pain, shame and other brutal honesty. She begs to be “marr(ied) to the sky” — but only if she dies first. Power has long been the queen of bittersweet, and “Cherokee” confirms her crown.
The contrast between sorrow and pep feels effortless in “Cherokee,” but not all of Sun is so seamless. “Real Life” presents the solemn idea of identity crises but sounds too poppy to be taken seriously. Lyrics about a “preacher who wants to be sinister” and a “mother who wants to be alone” are ultimately drowned out by the pulsating synth beat, as is Power’s declaration that it’s perfectly OK to be unhappy with life sometimes. It’s normal if you “just don’t wanna live,” she sings, but the gravity of her plea is all but lost in the song’s nonchalant feel. The contradictions and consequences of life can be a risky can of worms to open — especially in the course of a two-and-a-half minute pop song.
In fact, Sun might shine the brightest when its youthful tones are dropped completely. Tracks like “Always On My Own” do away with extra instrumentation, letting Power’s rich, captivating voice take the floor instead. It’s the simplest song on the album, but it’s also the most enticing: Power is hypnotic as she cries out over quiet symbol crashes and a softly sensual guitar.
Cat Power isn’t the most carefree musician to strum an acoustic guitar, save for a few drum taps and keyboard keys. She can be dark, moody, and sometimes, downright jaded — but that’s what makes her so irresistible. Sure, she’s been around the block a time or two, but she’s going to keep going and she’s going to keep singing about it. And when you listen to those songs, you’ll probably notice the quiet, unshakeable feeling she’s experienced more in this lifetime than you will ever know.