Wanderer – Cat Power
Released October 5, 2018
Cat Power, known off-stage as Charlyn “Chan” Marshall, has returned to the world of music with Wanderer, six years after the critically acclaimed Sun in 2012. Wanderer looks back to earlier Cat Power projects with slow guitars and piano instrumentals that compliment her “stream-of-consciousness” lyrics.
This first track, the title track, is a quiet, yet well-developed introduction to the rest of the album. Quiet and raw, “Wanderer” beautifully hums a glorious one-minute preface to the album. This song was the first released single for Wanderer.
2. “In Your Face”
The light, tapping percussion throughout “In Your Face” creates a mysterious ear-catching element. This song makes me feel like I am walking through a remote desert for miles and miles, looking around for any sign of life, but my view is being distorted by the heat mirage and I’m hopelessly alone. It sounds like a lonely love song that produces a rattling anxiety with the stealthy, fuzzy strings sitting just behind, carrying Marshall’s vocals through to the end. This song picks up quite a bit from the opening track which helped keep my attention throughout the four minutes and 12 seconds.
3. “You Get”
“You Get” feels like a real Cat Power song. Her timeless, raspy voice accompanied by her soft, clever guitar playing evolves into the signature sound that we’ve all grown to love. This is the first track with noticeable repetition that sets a trend for the rest of the album. Wanderer’s use of repetition isn’t something to criticize. It helps Marshall’s point of view develop in this narrative. She sings “time” in almost every line and echoes it in response to the later verses. If Marshall wanted us to take one thing away from this song, it would be that time is essential to heal. It can be used to get what you want and what you think you need.
4. “Woman (feat. Lana Del Rey)”
This song features a combination of voices that was unexpected, yet perfectly appropriate. It starts with an underwater echoing of Lana Del Rey and Cat Power singing the single word, “woman,” harmoniously. They then take turns singing lines from the verses but join forces for the powerful, repetitive chorus “I am a woman.” Their deep-toned voices blend like butter when they sing together a little differently with each repeat of the word. Their layered voices, both deep but uniquely projected, act as angelic ghosts floating in the instrumentals that echo off of each other. “Woman” gets heavier with stronger percussion and vocals that radiate confidence and persistence. This is Marshall’s way of saying “I’m over it. I’m better. Now I’m free.” She declares that she is a woman, and that’s all she will ever need. She finds comfort in knowing women are powerful creatures and she’s not who she was before; she’s not as weak.
Cat Power released a different version of “Woman” as the second single for Wanderer. The single version omits the echoing vocals at the beginning, getting right into the first verse. The general compositing is louder, more grandiose, and more powerful with the layering of instrumentals and vocals. “Woman” worked well as a single; it features Lana Del Rey, reaching a wider audience, and the single version alterations are easy to follow and get stuck in your head.
This track is the first on the album to directly introduce the family theme. Marshall addresses her mother, father, sister, and brother. She begs her parents to be with her – “Mother, I want to hold your hand. Father, I need you to be a man.” She longs to be there for her younger brother and sister like her parents were not for her. Marshall reassures them in each verse, saying that she’ll give them all the love she has and all the help she can give. “Horizon” is wonderfully dominated by piano but has musical elements new to Wanderer. This track features heavy vocal distortion and Autotune on Marshall’s voice that echoes and elongates the second chorus. The electronic, popular 2000s style is unique to Horizon, adding variety to the soft percussion and guitar of the first four tracks.
Marshall is no stranger to covers. She has released two albums almost entirely made up of covers: The Covers Record in 2002 and Jukebox in 2008. However, this song took me by a bit of surprise. She included her mellow, emotional cover of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko’s “Stay” from Rihanna’s 2012 album, Unapologetic. Cat Power’s version preserves the lyrics that she felt were relevant to her and takes a piano-focused approach as she floats through the song. The timing and pacing stray far from the original which is what makes the song her own; the cover was unidentifiable until a few lines in. Marshall’s interpretation is much airier and breathier which adds to its originality. She stays quiet and timid even in the parts Rihanna belted out in her version.
This song carries on a little less quietly than the others. She spouts meaningless descriptions in the internal monologue-like storytelling like “can of Coke down my throat.” “Black” sings about an angel of death; an old friend that helped her and has since died. Because of this, I’m assuming “Black” is referring to death itself. The reference to one of Marshall’s own losses introduces another aspect of the album, which continues to complicate things and reinforce the idea of it being a work meant to be listened to, not one able to be transcribed and make any kind of sense.
8. “Robbin Hood”
On “Robbin Hood,” Marshall sings of a woman with her baby walking home after dark and getting robbed. “Got to cover my head to my ankle or die” – makes me think the woman in the story wasn’t robbed of money or valuables but was robbed sexually, and the way to prevent it is to dress conservatively as not to “tempt” the robber. Marshall isn’t known to express politics in her work, but she does express her discontent with socially induced female inferiority and description of today’s age of sexual assault.
9. “Nothing Really Matters”
Cat Power’s vocals in “Nothing Really Matters” stand loud and projected on Wanderer, but that’s not saying too much considering the soft-spoken nature of the album. She pushes her voice to be higher and stronger to express what could be her inability to relate to what matters to other people. She is lonely because what matters to her doesn’t seem to matter to anyone else. The piano in this song reminds me a lot of Father John Misty’s melancholic piano compositions, that pair well with his lyrics of similar criticisms of the disconnect between society and individual.
10. “Me Voy”
Light guitar strumming leads Cat Power’s effortlessly full vocals into the first verse. She goes back and forth from singing “I’m going” and “Me voy,” the Spanish equivalent. The four-minute song is repetitive of very few words, declaring that she’s leaving, she’s gone, and she wishes “you” wouldn’t leave. “Me Voy” is short and abstract; it can be easily associated with nearly any situation, giving the listener freedom to attach meaning and significance as they please.
“Wanderer/Exit” is an embellished extended version of the opening track. This closing version has stronger backing instrumentals than the opener and an additional one minute and 16 seconds added in which Cat Power repeats “Oh wanderer, I’ll be wondering” for a final time. The opener and closer, both titled variants of wanderer, act as bookends to this album that provide appropriate closure to the listener.