Cat Power – Wanderer review

Secret Meeting score: 82

by Philip Moss

In a tiny corner of the alternative music world, Chan Marshall aka Cat Power, set off a mini-tornado last week. In an extended interview with The New York Times, she discussed the somewhat messy departure from her long time record company, Matador. The label, which has been releasing her music since 1998, had – when she handed her new album, Wanderer, over – told her to ‘do it again’ as they deemed it was ‘not good enough’ and ‘not strong enough to put out.’

So considering Marshall also stated in the same interview that the collection that will be released through her new label, Domino, is the very same, bar one additional song (a duet with Lana Del Rey), at face value it seemed a rather odd way to promote new material.

At just one minute and fourteen seconds, opener, Wanderer, is gorgeous. Backed by a delicately layered, tapestry of choral voices, this a-cappella introduction is a perfect start to the metaphorical wander through modern day America which takes place across the record’s eleven tracks. ‘Oh wanderer, I’ve been a wanderer,’ Marshall details- its folk-inspired melody completely at one with the confidence that she has in her ability to evoke imagery through song.

Wanderer has been self produced and she positions her voice front and centre throughout. But while the musical accompaniment is mostly minimal and gentle, the themes are not. In Your Face tackles deep rooted, inherent self righteousness, You Get discusses media ignorance and comeuppance, and Nothing Really Matters shows an empathy for those suffering from depression and anxiety, which Marshall herself has openly battled in the past.

The aforementioned duet with Del Rey, Woman, is perhaps the record’s most immediate and assured cut- the pair’s voices blending beautifully on its repetitive, stuttering chorus. While Horizon benefits from a more embellished arrangement, as light percussion, looped electric guitars, occasional bass stabs and experimental, auto-tuned backing vocals underpin Marshall’s gorgeous, simple melody.

Having lived with Wanderer for almost a week, one assumes it was the lack of immediacy that left the executives at Matador wanting more. But unlike the insipid Adele LP they played her to offer guidance and inspiration, Wanderer is an understated, quietly quirky and contemporary folk record that takes its time, but will get under your skin – and one that is up there with the very best material ever released under the Cat Power moniker. So it’s no wonder she believed so much in this labour of love that she was willing to break the twenty year relationship with the New York-based label. And at a time when female vocalists and songwriters have never been more in vogue, Marshall has proved, yet again, that she is still very much a leading lady in alternative music.

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