3.5 stars (out of 4)
Chan Marshall, a k a Cat Power, couldn’t make it any more obvious. In titling her ninth album “Sun” (Matador), Marshall is strongly hinting that maybe, just maybe, she’s turned a corner on the darker, more oblique music that defined so much of her past while she battled an array of demons, including alcohol addiction.
Not that “Sun” is sugarcoated. “I never knew pain like this,” Marshall sings on the opening “Cherokee,” addressing the death of a recent relationship. “Sometimes you don’t wanna live,” she admits on “Real Life.” But whereas Marshall’s past music might’ve been swallowed by oblivion, this music determinedly dances through it.
With its array of loops, chilled keyboards and rhythmic accents ranging from the Caribbean to the Mississippi Delta, “Sun” makes Marshall’s sultry, darkly shaded voice sound almost playful at times.
“3,6,9” puts a shimmy in its hips with saloon piano chords and hand-clap rhythms, topped by a black-comedy refrain. Riding disco bass and salsa-fied piano, “Ruin” sounds like it’s dancing on the planet’s grave. “Human Being” transforms a brooding psychedelic soundscape into a strangely powerful affirmation.
With the penultimate “Nothin’ But Time,” Marshall does take her time – nearly 11 minutes – to put a punctuation point on this oddly moving album. Iggy Pop surfaces near the end like some consoling weird uncle. “It’s up to you to be like nobody,” Pop softly croons alongside Marshall, preaching to the converted.