Wanderer is Cat Power’s (AKA Chan Marshall) tenth album. However, despite being this far into her career, this latest release represents something of a fresh start. The reason for this is that Wanderer is the first of Marshall’s not to be released through Matador in 22 years, as they rejected the record and according to Marshall wanted her to re-record it to make it sound more like Adele. After that, she took the album elsewhere.
Certainly, if the record execs or fans were expecting a direct follow-up to her previous record 2012’s Sun, they would be sorely disappointed. Wanderer is a much less poppy affair and features little of the electronics of that album. Instead, the guitars that were replaced by synths last time are back. Also, the one track that does employ electronic vocal effects, Horizon, feels both like one of the slighter tracks and incongruous with the rest of this stripped back collection.
The stripped back nature of the album is clear from the off with the simple gospel intro that is the minute-long title track. We then launch into the equally spare In Your Face before getting rockier with You Get, a brief reminder of Cat Power’s spikier beginnings. For the most part, though these are sparse and emotionally raw songs, precisely the kind of songs for which Marshall is most renowned. Like with most previous Cat Power LPs, one of the key strengths is her vocals. Some fans will also be pleased to hear the return of the smoky chanteuse of previous records, most noticeably on the track Black.
For all the starkness of the album, there is a slightly poppier note in Woman, one of the lead singles from the album, a track which sees Marshall collaborate with Lana Del Ray. It is probably the most uplifting and catchy track on the album, not to mention one of the best too. Also, while the chorus sees both Marshall and Del Ray merely repeating the word “woman” over and over, it seems like a powerful and defiant statement. Moreover, the chorus is given more resonance given the cultural moment we are in with the backdrop of #MeToo movement etc.
The latest single from the album Stay is also excellent. Somewhat unexpectedly, this is a cover of the 2012 Rihanna hit. The original is a simple piano ballad as it is, but Marshall has somehow managed to pare the track down further making it even starker and heart-rending.
This is undoubtedly no Sun 2, but it is a raw, lyrical and emotionally intense record that rewards repeated listens.