What do you do as an indie star when retirement is approaching? Having children and cooking up old recipes for success. In the case of Chan Marshall aka Cat Power, that means a new cover album. She became famous for playing other people’s songs very slowly and melancholy just on the guitar. She did that to perfection in 2000 with “The Covers Record” and in 2008 with “Jukebox”. And now a third cover album. “Covers” it says.
Insanity, they say, is when someone keeps doing the same thing but expecting a different result. And in this sense “Covers” is a very reasonable work – never change a working system.
This time, alongside Frank Ocean, Lana Del Rey, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave are also The Replacements and Nico, with Marshall not picking the most obvious songs. Except perhaps for Nico, whose “These Days” Marshall performs as a duet with himself, meandering around the original tune rather than covering it in the classical sense. Otherwise the album is tastefully arranged and extremely accessible. The sound is the one she’s been cultivating since “The Greatest”. Casual, airy and quietly glamorous even in the sparsest of arrangements. On the one hand.
On the other hand, “Covers” could also run anywhere without being a nuisance. In expensive shoe stores. At funerals. At weddings where the wedding DJs secretly doubt the couple’s connection. It’s barista music. Cafe latte with oat milk music. The kind of music that sometimes makes you think you want to turn on some music until you realize there’s music playing.
Nothing disturbs. And if you’re honest, that’s annoying. But not enough that you would do something about it directly. Because, of course, Cat Power is still a better musician than the people who produce the stuff that’s typically called barista music. On the other hand, Norah Jones is definitely a good musician. Still, you don’t want to free them.
A few years ago, when the hype about Cat Power was at its peak, she gave an interview at the pedicure. She got her nails painted red at a San Francisco spa, said things like “A long second toe means you’re extremely intelligent,” and pointed to her long second toe. Otherwise, in the interview, she celebrated the hobbies and ailments of the culture jet set, while she had her nails done by a Filipina. You can hardly hear Cat Power after that without thinking of second toenails painted red.
On the other hand, and on closer inspection: Doesn’t “Covers” also work like a single, very long second toe? Simply leave out all the arrangements until only the musical idea remains. One senses the foot, even if one cannot see it.
“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” by Kitty Wells strips them down to a mischievous groove. The country just blows in the background as a reverberation-soft slide guitar. Their cover of “I Had a Dream Joe” almost rivals Nick Cave’s pathos. Only slowed down, monotonously. A sad power version. She also performs Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” and Ryan Gosling’s “Pa Pa Power” on which she unfortunately messes up the chorus. Because the resolution to the anthemic pop major cadence, sung by the innocent girls’ choir, is just as effective in the original. However, the melody ornamentation plays a reverberation distorted guitar, which suddenly makes you feel like you are in one cold play-Machine thinks.
She also re-recorded one of her own songs, “Hate”. It’s now called “Unhate” and it sounds like Lana del Rey got a sudden boost of energy. If she follows the idea further, she could actually record a cover album of her first cover album next, and cover it again until the actual songs are no longer recognizable and the universal music of the 22nd century emerges. A symphony, a random melody, or maybe, at the very end, just static.