a love letter to cat power

by s.

It seems that we’ve reached a point in our lives where “whatever happened to Cat Power?” is a question that we can ask. Maybe the answer is Feist, or Sharon Van Etten, or even Adele. (After all, there is a Folk Woman Quota that needs to be maintained.) For my part, I’d forgotten about the softness of her songs and the way that she paws the ground like a shy horse when she plays live. I’d forgotten about how incredibly intimate and uncomfortable it is to watch her play; she used to quite famously run off the stage in tears.

After a while, you started wanting to pay for a ticket to spare her from having to play.

At some point between the intersection of the peak of her discomfort with the audience and the peak of her hip-ness, she released You Are Free, which I recall a lot of people thinking was really kind of a weird record and something they felt a little bit unsure about. I always loved it more than I loved her other albums: the individual songs didn’t stand out as much as “The Colors and the Kids” or “Nude As the New” but as a whole it always stuck with me more.

Listening to it now, I realize that it kind of has the reverse effect of Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love. Chan Marshall’s lyrics have always read a little obtuse – perhaps necessarily so, given the straightforward nature of her melodies – so I think it behooves the whole universe if I don’t analyze them. What I can say is this: this sounds like the album you listen to while you’re walking away.

It is also noteworthy that this album features some of the best songs about singers, which is a really hard thing to do. My favorite example of this (and my favorite song on the album) is in the very first song, “I Don’t Blame You”: “You were swinging your guitar around / Cause they wanted to hear that sound, but you didn’t want to play. And I don’t blame you.”

It’s probably as much about Marshall herself as it is about anything, but in song it comes off as Marshall cutting us all a little bit of slack for not holding up to our end of some secret bargain. Somehow, it is just the right mixture of reassuring and sad, which is what Cat Power was always about.