In a time of great turmoil for women and marginalised populations, people are taking to the streets, to their congressional offices, and to their social media feeds to protest. While most women are making their voices louder, Cat Power is doing what she’s done with grace and casual virtuosity for two decades now: looking quietly inward.
On Wanderer, her tenth album, Cat Power explores the same sonic territory she’s occupied since 2003’s You Are Free; it is driven by straightforward guitar melodies, tambourines, and her whisper-quiet voice. Since her 2012 album, Sun, Cat Power, whose real name is Chan Marshall, has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and become the mother to a son. It’s also her first album since 1996 not to be released on her longtime record label, Matador. Creative differences led her in search of a new home, and she landed at Domino Records, home to the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. For Marshall, there has long been a freedom in the male-dominated world of indie rock that has allowed her to write and produce her own records, which is also the case with Wanderer. If Marshall’s music tells us anything about how it feels to be a woman in music with autonomy, it tells us there’s a sense of peace to it.
Marshall does explore some of the day’s politics on the album. On “In Your Face,” the divisive nature of discourse among political ideologies (“In the age of military, you are engaged / With such fanfare activity / You let them do things as they please / In a grave, you’re accounted for / If you were red, you’d be spoken for / Your colour blue is grey"). Empowerment, out of the ashes of a broken relationship, also gets a hard look from Marshall, in a duet with Lana Del Rey on “Woman” ("Your cage is like a weapon, / a tool to get me, shaped and fit for the other ones / Well my cage is a weapon, it’s perfect for me / It’s the one suit you seem to never see"). And even economic inequality bears mention, in the tale of “Robin Hood” (“Big fat cat, biggest piece of the pie, high top hat, leaves no disguise / Who robbing, he robbing you.”). Her cover of Rihanna’s “Stay” has probably gotten the most press, and is an imaginative reinterpretation of the song that makes it somehow slightly less morose but still terribly sad.
The gist of the album’s sensibility, however, can be found in the title track, which serves as both intro and outro; Marshall is a wanderer in the world who stumbles into the various scenarios and setups of the day, only to wander right back out. There’s a weary listlessness to both the music and the lyrics, that mimics my worst days in the current news cycle. Marshall captures the feeling of “it’s all too much” and somehow puts them into musical vignettes that are far more angst-ridden than her dulcet voice belies.