48.50 min • Matador • September 03, 2012
In the run up to the release of Cat Power’s ninth studio album, several articles emerged painting her as a figure of melancholy and describing Sun as the result of a break-up of her last relationship. Whether it’s lazy journalism or not, it has always got my back up when music reviewers take music as a direct account of a musician’s life. Yes, Ms. Power has documented her personal struggles in both music and interviews; but to call her miserable based on her albums reads like overreacting. Take PJ Harvey, for example. For two decades she has been branded with the stereotype of a tortured soul, and even the idea of her being a witch has been flippantly thrown about. Well, if PJ experienced or committed some or all of the acts she sings about, she would have been locked up way back in the early ’90s (probably right after the release of Rid Of Me). My point being that the role of the artist, in this case a musician, is to translate human emotion through the form of words and music, and this is not necessarily a direct representation of their lives.
With this in mind, Sun is meditation on life from where the singer stands in the world today. Its overarching theme is discovery of the self and her assertion of autonomy (“I want to live my way of living”). This parallels Cat Power’s decision to self-produce the album and write the bulk of the songs on synthesizers and keyboards; instruments she had no previous experience of recording with. She incorporates them with her signature blues-rock sound and they gives rough-around-the-edges quality which Power’s music has always maintained.
Lyrically, it looks both inwards and out in an examination of independence and identity. On ‘Silent Machine’ she takes on societal expectations of women, and ‘Real Life’ explores the lives of others who want to break out of their own self to achieve freedom and follow their heart’s calling (“I met a doctor, he want to be a dancer”). Although she sings of restriction and struggles, hope prevails above all else, especially on ‘Nothin’ But Time’ where she beautifully explains “Your world is only beginning”.
Another key highlight is the rollicking lead single ‘Ruin’; rumbling along on a piano rhythm and melody it builds into a climax which would prove hard not to crack a smile. But don’t be easily fooled, its joyous music is a vehicle to rally against today’s “bitching” and “complaining” in light of people starving across the globe. This offering showcases her openness as songwriter and fearlessness as a musician. It could prove easy to stick to the melancholic and introverted songwriting which established her fanbase and what she may now be type-casted with by music press. Instead, she is carving out her own path and has not shyed away from experimenting with her sound on each release.
Sun stands tall as an album eloquently informed by emotional experience and maturity. Cat Power has been open about her recent separation and personal lows but this album stands as her most life-affirming work, regardless of whether she is standing in the light or in the shadows it casts.
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