Man I fell hard for Chan Marshall back in 98. The name Cat Power would not stay off my radar, and I for some reason had it associated with the spate of riot grrl records and collectives I respected for their ardor and adroit grassroots marketing, but didn't really care for as music, so I emailed a much hipper person than myself asking what the deal is. He responded that the deal is that his girlfriend plays Ms Marshall's Moon Pix constantly, in an obsessive teenage kind of way, and that it still as a good record even if he didn't ever want to hear it again. I got a copy with sweet freckle face Marshall spooking out of the silver print cover and was enlisted in the Cat Power Army. "Cross Bones Style" despite it being an assemblage of indie rock clich?©s like the semi-Funky drummer beat and the minimal lyric cycles, is one of my favorite songs ever, and "Metal Heart" pays in full the debt of all the purple prose writ about her. A covers album later showed promise, but didn't really deliver, and despite "You Are Free" being the official Record-We've-All-Been-Waiting-For of 2003, it didn't really do it for me. It sounded empty, like it was by the shy persona that her onstage hysterics have projected.
So here comes The Greatest being lionized as her "Dusty in Memphis." I pose this to the cosmos: do you really care about Dusty Springfield? If she hadn't been resurrected by the Pet Shop Boys a while back from one of their late-career disco barbituates, would she even register as a meme? Dusty in Memphis is a classic of Nashville texture, with that yellow light pouring out of the strings, but to me its like the recent feting of "Smile" - sure its good, exemplary aat what it is, but don't believe the hype.
The Greatest is, from what I can tell, a collection of variations on "Moon River" those syrupy strings filling in the gaps usually left to the crisp air in her skeletal songs. Her voice is in great form, that haunting rasp that has its own built-in reverb that exudes the too-much-trouble sexuality I always associate with her. My favorite here is the Spartan "Love and Communication" which shows that a torch song can burn without being doused in kerosene, but the string pieces have their merit. Like the Barbara Mandrell Special sway of "Lived in Bars" has a great cheese-ball lounge groove to it, and the exaggerated pedal steel twang of "Island" is pretty intoxicating. In fact the whole this is designed to give you a late 60's Nashville contact high. Its prescription pill rock of the finest order, and while I applaud her for coaxing the most out of her purr, I miss getting scratched by Cat Power, and hope she emerges next round, weird as a beard with claws intact.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com