There’s something about about Chan Marshall that makes people want to save her. Maybe it’s the cracked beauty and vulnerability in her music, which she records under the name Cat Power, or the fact that so many of her songs pay tribute to Kurt Cobain, another fragile soul who once needed saving. Or maybe it’s her long history of breaking down on stage, curling up in a fetal position while members of the crowd shout, ”We love you!” and reach out to stroke her hair. It’s hard to blame them; her voice is wrenching. But that type of fandom also feels vaguely condescending. Marshall’s not a victim. And she’s never sounded more confident or in control than she does on Sun, her ninth album.
Though it was written before the breakup of her long-term relationship with actor Giovanni Ribisi earlier this year, the album is a prescient tribute to self-sufficiency. Marshall wrote, produced, and played every instrument here, working in studios in Paris, Miami, and L.A. over the past several years. With no one overseeing her, she takes more creative risks, trading the vintage soul stylings of 2006’s The Greatest for ominously humming synthesizers, angry punk dirges, and digitally enhanced vocals that build right along with her mood, which often feels defiant. ”You’ve got a right to scream when they don’t want you to speak,” she cries on ”Human Being,” in one of many self-help mantras that would make Pussy Riot proud. Elsewhere, she refuses to feel sorry for herself, remembering that ”some people ain’t got s — to eat” (on the gypsy-rock piano-pounder ”Ruin”) and opting for upbeat rhythms on even the saddest songs (the swaggering blues of ”3,6,9” nods to Shirley Ellis’ spirited ”The Clapping Song”). Best of all is ”Nothin but Time,” a moving 11-minute inspirational that she wrote for Ribisi’s teenage daughter. ”It’s up to you to be a superhero,” she wails, before joining Iggy Pop in a rapturous refrain: ”I want to live/My way of living!” Maybe she still needs to be saved. But this time she can save herself. A-