Album Review: Wanderer by Cat Power
Cat Power, also known as Chan Marshall, has been away for a while. Her last release was in 2012, and the 11 track Wanderer is her first album since her split from Matador Records.
Beautifully haunting, Marshall’s tenth album demonstrates her ability to show fragility, strength and vulnerability all at once. Heavy on the vocals, there’s something very stripped-back about this record. Overall, the production of the album highlights Marshall’s talents vocally and as a lyricist, defining her as an artist.
Opening track ‘Wanderer’ shows off the delicacy in her vocal range. Soft and acoustic, the layering of the song allows us to immediately experience Marshall’s ethereal voice in all its glory. We are provided with a hymnal beginning that firmly sets the bar high for the rest of the album.
In an age of music that is so saturated with over-production and technological advances, Wanderer is a delightfully simple album. Marshall seems acutely aware of her vocal ability and its power. With no need to detract from this, it shines amongst ringing piano keys and low acoustic guitars.
‘Woman’, a particularly special track, comes in collaboration with Lana Del Rey, and stands out on the album as something really quite wonderful. As the only song added post-split from Matador, it must have come as a bit of a kick in the teeth for a label seemingly determined to manufacture the artist. The song repeats the lyric “I’m a woman of my word, now haven’t you heard?” and you can’t help but feel the strength of two such incredible female vocalists collaborating. Del Rey’s famously low tones shine against Marshall’s, and the result is truly beautiful.
Another highlight of the album is a cover of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’, which feels dark in tone. Another testament to Marshall’s vocal talent, her high notes add a certain delicacy to the track. Goosebumps-creating, Marshall allows us to witness her strength in an ability to stand out while covering one of the most famous female vocalists of our time. Not for the first time (Marshall is well-known for her rendition of ‘Sea of Love’), she shows a natural gift for covers.
In songs such as ‘Horizon’ and ‘Black’, Chan Marshall provides us with the same, intricately vulnerable vocals. Both songs drip with careful chord progressions and mystical lyrics. Both apparent love songs, she once more shows the influence of blues and folk on her work. There’s a very specific beauty that Marshall channels in her music, and it feels haunting.
This beauty comes across again in ‘Nothing Really Matters’, which is three minutes and twelve seconds of perfectly simple piano accompanied by Marshall’s gorgeous vocals. With the melancholic “I learned to test” repeating throughout the track, we are subjected once again to lyrics that seem to show the deep pain Marshall has felt in the six years that have passed since her previous release, nearly causing her to give up music altogether.
Wanderer also treats us to Marshall’s storytelling ability within her work. The encore of ‘Wanderer’ at the beginning and end remind us that this love story is central to the whole record. The final version – ‘Wanderer/Exit’ – is distinctly darker and deeper, allowing a different turn on the same emotions. This lengthened and moodier take is the perfect winter song and allows us to be fully enveloped into the love story that Marshall is attempting to tell through the record.
This is the perfect album for dark nights. Wanderer is both haunting and ethereal, dark and beautiful. Deeply autumnal with its low acoustic strings and soft vocals, the record seems made for October.
While not necessarily the most exciting of albums – it is very much a gentle record – it displays a powerful range and is a phenomenal lyrical achievement. The album feels more like a piece of art than a record in its strength, showing Cat Power knows exactly how to transcend expectations.