Creepy Chan! Creepy Chan! Georgia native Chan “Cat Power” Marshall has always been a shy, emotionally intense woman. She’s been known to nervously cry onstage at her shows. Once, she even jumped off the stage midperformance, sobbing as she ran through her adoring audience, leaving the theatre altogether. Total Carrie White manoeuvre.
Stevie Nicks’s audience has been known to admiringly throw shawls, hand-painted tambourines and even present her with Tiffany lamps! Sheryl Crow swears she has seen this happen.
Well, Chan’s audience must be throwing her Xanax, chocolate- covered espresso beans and stuffed Care Bears because her seventh album, The Greatest, is her most optimistic and spirited release. But the lyrics are still sweetly sad, horse-loving, teen-girl romantic. You can just picture within the margins of her Hilroy Scribbler, the Bic pen sketches of unicorns, flowers and butterflies accompanying the bubble-lettered titles of the songs.
The lyrics just don’t seem that special, though, and Marshall’s weepy mumble singing doesn’t let you in, either. But the arrangements and musicianship of the players help make The Greatest clip along. Marshall assembled Memphis session musicians like Teenie and Leroy Hodges on guitar and bass and Stax’s Steve Potts on drums — these guys are architects of southern soul and have played with the likes of Al Green, Booker T and Aretha Franklin.
The title track could easily be a song from Mazzy Star’s much admired and hated 1993 release, So Tonight That I Must See. Truth be told, half of these songs could fit comfortably there. Marshall plays elegant piano as strings and quirky guitars lazily skip around her. “Once I wanted to be the greatest/ Two fists of solid rock,” she whispers, “With brains that could explain/ Any feeling.”
I really shouldn’t, but I find the obviously sappy and precious “Where Is My Love” impossibly pretty in its simplicity. The lyrics are short and to the point. “Where is my love/ Where is my love/ Horses galloping/ Bring him to me.” It’s the only song on the album where vocally, I actually felt the emotion that Marshall was trying to convey — solid haunting desperation. She lets go.
The song where all the elements really come together is the closer, “Love And Communication.” It’s a slick rocker with Rick Steff’s hip organ jerking along to Marshall’s defiant rasp (think Lisa Germano or Beth Orton). It’s dark and menacing but those Memphis legends give it a hypnotic sexiness. God love ’em.
All of the other songs have a stoner, lackadaisical coolness (or is that coldness?). It’s not a bad thing. The album works as moody, nighttime, escapist fare, something for weekend music lovers to clutch as their new hip “hurtin'” afterdinner chill-out disc. “Have you guys heard this Cat Power disc?” “Oh my God, it’s so mesmerizing…. Honey, can you pass me a Ferrero Rocher?”
Brooklyn (via California) nerds We Are Scientists’ debut, With Love And Squalor, is a perfect example of when record companies play it safe and find bands that sound exactly like the new big thing. Don’t let the cuteness of seeing three adorable kittens (hiding the faces of band members Keith Murray, Chris Cain and Michael Tapper) on the CD cover tempt you into purchasing this.
We Are Scientists is a total rip- off of The Killers. They’re thin, pasty American white boys singing like the Brits they aren’t (again, similar to The Killers). The songs are un-original, retro, indie nonsense. Postpunk dance pop with guitars flying all over the place. The screaming vocals have no realization that they’re as mainstream and pathetic as Ashlee Simpson.
The opening track “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” is all power-pop serious, demanding respect with its supposedly sexually subversive content. Lead singer Keith Murray screams silliness supreme to a rush of show-off power chords and nonstop uninspired drumming. “My body is your body/And I’m not just any body,” sings Murray, “If you want to use my body/ Go for it.”
Every song is a cocky piece of testosterone campiness. The tunes have no character or uniqueness which makes the album sound like one long loud redundant song. It’s not even fun disposable pop. The lyrics of “Cash Cow” could very well sum up this album and may be the most honest heartfelt thing on it. “I’m not going to wait for anything to happen/ All of this at once/ I’m ready for the cash in.”