CAT POWER: THE COVERS RECORD (2000)
1) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; 2) Kingsport Town; 3) Troubled Waters; 4) Naked If I Want To; 5) Sweedeedee; 6) In This Hole; 7) I Found A Reason; 8) Wild Is The Wind; 9) Red Apples; 10) Paths Of Victory; 11) Salty Dog; 12) Sea Of Love.
You can probably already see from the preceding reviews that I am in no hurry to join the circle of adulators when it comes to Ms. Marshall and her ideas on how to use up her talents. And this is too bad, because when next it comes to The Covers Record, it is pretty damn hard to feel anything but hateful numbness unless you already are an adulator. Apparently, the «success» of Moon Pix (a fairly relative one — it's not like it made a Madonna out of her or anything) led her to thinking that now she had to perform one of those classic «artistic suicides», like Dylan's Self Portrait, to take the attention away from her persona and draw it to something else, becoming an interpreter for a while, instead of an artist.
To that end, The Covers Record does indeed consist of 12 covers, ranging from old folk and blues numbers to such Sixties' classics as ʽSatisfactionʼ and obscurities such as Moby Grape's ʽNaked If I Want Toʼ; most of them are transformed beyond recognition and often symbolically castrated by the removal of chorus hooks (which she'd already actually done much earlier, e. g. with Tom Waits' ʽYesterday Is Hereʼ), and to say that the arrangements are sparse would be saying nothing — most of the guitar-only and piano-only tunes are reduced to two or three chords, placed on endless repetition. Carrying the Pink Moon analogy over from the previous album, I'd have to say that Pink Moon, in comparison to this, sounds like a Mahler symphony.
Some, indeed, will find this approach as haunting, mysterious, chilly, and grappling as anything Cat Power ever did — and I do agree, in principle, that a reinvention of ʽSatisfactionʼ as an introspective, almost dark-folkish ballad with only the verse lyrics preserved sounds cool in theory, and even in practice... for the first thirty seconds or so. But the joke gets predictable and boring very, very quickly. The formula is always precisely the same: take any song (sad, happy, angry, lyrical, whimsical, whatever), deconstruct and strip its melody to the barest of bare essentials (simple enough to play for anybody with a couple weeks worth of musical training), and sing its lyrics in that icy-tender, husky, back-from-the-dead tone that leaves no doubt about it — here's a human being who's been through much more than you (sucker).
Problem is, this does not exactly tie in with the stated goal of the record: instead of humbly diverting attention from her own Moon Pix persona, she reinvents these songs so drastically that they no longer retain any of the original spirit and simply become another bunch of Cat Power songs, only this time, very poorly written ones. Apparently, her shows at the time included a projection of Dreyer's Passion Of Joan Of Arc while she was playing and singing the songs — which, if you ask me, comes across as a fairly arrogant gesture, rather than a humble one (a truly humble gesture would probably be to simply replace the concert with the film: I, for one, would much more love to see another screening of Passion than sit through Chan plink her way through all twelve of these «covers»).
It is not even the minimalism as such that drives me nuts — it is the idea of using this fatalistic moroseness as the single common denominator to which everything is reduced. When the formerly pissed off ʽSatisfactionʼ, the formerly triumphant and inspiring ʽPaths Of Victoryʼ, the formerly dangerous-romantic ʽWild Is The Windʼ, and the formerly facetious ʽSalty Dogʼ all become the same brand of ʽStill I'm Sadʼ, I just fail to see the point. Are we supposed to think that at the bottom of all these tunes there is indeed endless sadness, and that it was not until Chan Marshall opened our eyes to this that it became so evident? Or should we take this as a metaphoric statement of the «when you're overwhelmed with one emotion, you tend to view everything in the world through that emotional state» variety? But even if this is so, was this really sufficient to justify using an average of 2-3 notes for each song? And if this symbolizes the extremity of sadness, why not just pull a Cage on us and release nothing but silence?
In short, I'm not getting this and certainly not pretending to get this. A curious idea in theory that outlasts its welcome in less than two minutes, and is far more pretentious than it is humble. In the long run, the cover of ʽSatisfactionʼ is good enough to serve as a chuckle generator for unsuspecting friends, and the last two tracks are surprisingly listenable (on ʽSalty Dogʼ, she sings to the guitar playing of Matt Sweeney — you can tell, because there are many more than two notes here; and ʽSea Of Loveʼ, which sounds as if she's playing it by plucking open piano strings harp-style, is at least slightly livelier and perkier than the rest), but that's about it, and a thumbs down reaction, alas, seems inevitable.