IMI PARE RAU











{Thu, 18 January, 2007}   Chan-teuse too cloying?

Let’s get Shmoopid… & I kill myself with the pun (the lowest form of composition, according to college dropout third-shifters with whom I used to run; how’s it goin’, Jer?) That aside, though, I have been tasked with offering a capsule review of Cat Power’s The Greatest. I shall commence that task, now, but with the knowledge I began composing the piece in my head, as I read “Sports Illustrated” & ate sea-salted Lays-brand chips, & listened to the album, yesterday eve. So…

Allow me to confess: I had given up on Cat Power, five years ago. Having become abreast of the praise for Covers, toward the end of 2000, I put it on my list of albums to track down. One spring afternoon in April in D.C., then, I had it (along with the debut recordings of Badly Drawn Boy & Nelly Furtado (each of which far outshown CP)). Rest assured, I was quite underwhelmed, & sold Covers the following summer.

Fast forward to summer ’06: I have soured on BDB, & Nelly Furtado has been getting only limited play on my hi-fi set — but Cat Power! I did not see it coming. I was intrigued with the idea of the mercurial C. Marshall recording, in Memphis, with sidemen from the glorious seventies, when Al Green was still a lover, not a preacher. Maybe she could find a good melody, if not personal, psychic balance. Sure enough, she has. From the opening phrase of “The Greatest” — ‘once, I wanted to be the greatest’ — Chan steps away from the impending doom of critical adulation & collaboration with performers some orders of magnitude more famous than her, & for the first time finds power in her stage-fright, a narrator for her laconia.

I offer that it is in the setting. She has decamped from New York, where You are free was put to tape, & found sanctuary in the welcoming arms of professional musicians, not paid entertainers. (Certainly, they accrue recompense for their services, but these Memphis studio mavens are obviously not Eddie Vedder. But, I do like them better.) With them, she finds the soft, but still lively, melodies to accompany her plain-speak observations that, while facing the end, remain less than laments. Even the account of past drunks “Lived in bars” is not a melancholia of broken dreams & confession, but, rather, a reportorial description of boozy (but not necessarily depraved) evenings spent in the company of friends-for-a-moment at the local VFW.

I think I might be starting to like Cat Power.  Now that she is no longer a “hipster exploitation project” — credit to Wonkette on that, from their description of Wesley Willis — she no longer has the sideshow air of the lost & meagrely skilled, on display because of how out of place it is to put her on display. Now, she is a performer, not a diversion. In retreating from the spotlight, she found it. & she could not have done so with better aides de camp.

Final grade: A-.

Stand-out tracks: “Lived in bars”; “Willie”; “Love & Communication” (a rightful heir to “Love & Happiness”, that).

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