CAT POWER: JUKEBOX (2008)
1) New York; 2) Ramblin' (Wo)man; 3) Metal Heart; 4) Silver Stallion; 5) Aretha, Sing One For Me; 6) Lost Someone; 7) Lord, Help The Poor And Needy; 8) I Believe In You; 9) Song To Bobby; 10) Don't Explain; 11) Woman Left Lonely; 12) Blue; 13*) I Feel; 14*) Naked, If I Want To; 15*) Breathless; 16*) Angelitos Negros; 17*) She's Got You.
You can probably tell that if I had few kind words to say about Marshall's first album of cover tunes, the chances of these kind words multiplying tenfold for her second album of cover tunes would seem to be pretty thin. But at the very least, you couldn't blame her for completely repeating herself: whereas The Covers Record was totally minimalistic, consisting of little other than Marshall and her guitar or piano, Jukebox features Cat Power at the head of the «Dirty Delta Blues Band», consisting of several professional musicians assembled from various outfits (such as guitarist Judah Bauer of Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion), and, consequently, offering mostly bluesy reworkings of the usual near-random assortment of both golden and forgotten oldies.
Yet the album is still dominated by her usual tricks — take a certain song's lyrics, throw out the repetitive elements, destroy the original melody, and offer some atmospheric sonic brooding in its place. Maybe few of us are huge fans of the original ʽNew York, New Yorkʼ as done by Liza Minelli, and would not mind see it so viciously deconstructed (essentially, turned into a slow, funky blues jam), but even if the move works as an artistic statement (take a joyful ode to moving to the big city and turn it into a grimmer-than-grim hangover reaction to the whole thing), it hardly works as an autonomous atmospheric performance in its own rights — the music that they play, actually, is boring as heck.
And then, rinse and repeat twelve times in a row — seventeen, actually, if you consider the expanded two-disc edition that throws on five more outtakes from the same sessions (and I do believe there's also an additional EP out there that adds even more). If you like this underground lounge atmosphere, with dark, quivering basslines and wobbly, subconsciously dangerous electric pianos all over the place, good for you, but I'm still looking for melody and not finding it anywhere. Dylan's ʽI Believe In Youʼ arguably gets the royal treatment, with a very heavy drum sound and a good mix of distortion and echo on the guitar, so it is a bit of a standout, but I still cannot take it any more seriously than anything else on here.
Like all the rest of her failures, Jukebox fails because even if the artist herself believes that she is making some sort of strong statement, she cannot impress that feeling on me. These arrangements are simply not interesting — maybe this is not generic adult-oriented sterile blues playing, but it's the next worst thing: «tasteful» blues jamming without any spark, where you just have the blues ambience, but not the blues technique or the blues punch. And the idea of converting everything to the same common denominator of this blues ambience is never properly cleared up. I can't even tell if she likes Hank Williams or Billie Holiday — it's just that the idea of treating them this way reeks of pointless pretentiousness and presumptiousness.
And then there is the album's only original: ʽSong To Bobbyʼ, an acoustic folk ballad about you-know-who, clearly patterned after his own ʽSong To Woodyʼ on his debut album. When Dylan did that, it was sure as hell presumptious (in a way, you could surmise that he was appointing himself as Guthrie's successor), but the presumption, as everybody could see quite soon, was justified. So is Chan Marshall now appointing herself as Dylan's successor? The lyrics of the song seem so worshipful and fanboyish that no, this is more of a case of here saying "I'm not worthy!" But is there a point in saying that, either? We already know, more or less, that Chan Marshall is not the next Dylan, nor is she the first female Dylan (Dylan-ess?). So... either it's arrogance or it's pointlessness, I really don't care.
To recapitulate — there is nothing here but a meta-concept that is as old as Chan Marshall's career on the whole (ʽYesterday Is Hereʼ from the debut album could have easily made it to this collection as well), and a lot of fuzzy, soporific bluesy atmosphere; honestly, I'd rather go listen to Susan Tedeschi. She's boring, too, but at least she's a goddamn musician, and she wouldn't dare eviscerate the blues idiom in order to stuff her Artistic Personality in its smelly carcass and make people pay money for it. Thumbs down.