Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mysterious enigma

In 1994, a 22-year-old Chan Marshall went into a basement studio with Steve Shelley on drums and Tim Foljahn as second guitarist, and spent two days recording enough songs for two albums. The resulting Cat Power albums were mysterious and enigmatic, with Tim and Chan's guitars warily circling each other as Steve's drums accentuated the proceedings with appropriately ominous thumps. Many of the songs are clearly angry, some sad, some wistful, and the fact that these songs are being recorded in a basement means that sometimes there just isn't enough source material to get a good mix, but I don't think you can listen closely to the two albums that came out of this -- Dear Sir and Myra Lee -- without feeling that you're listening to something raw but rare and special.

This song is "The Sleepwalker", by the band Cat Power off of Dear Sir. It is supposedly a cover of a song released in 1984 by a New Zealand band called This Kind of Punishment. I tracked down the original song, and yes, some of the lyrics are the same, but it's not the same song. The original is a somewhat pedestrian "my woman done me wrong" song. Chan's "cover" re-arranges the lyrics to create a mysterious and sometimes angry and violent song of alienation, longing, anger and sadness, perhaps a reflection of the real-life tale of the betrayal of a daughter by her father.

I can't imagine what it's like to create your best work when young, then have to try to live up to it for the rest of your life. Nowadays Chan appears to have turned Cat Power into a Las Vegas lounge act, full of shmoozy samey songs crooned in a cigarette whisper. I guess she's happier now, her demons somewhat at rest rather than being dragged out to create something painful like her first four albums, but I find her recent stuff pretty much unlistenably boring. I'm sure the Las Vegas lounge set will like them though -- nice non-threatening background music for the casino crowd. Given the utter lack of retirement options for indy musicians who are no longer young I can't really blame her for making a retirement plan of crooning to the Geritol set, but I'll just go back to her earlier more interesting (if less technically "perfect") stuff, thank you very much.

-- Badtux the Music Penguin

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