Every time a new Cat Power record comes out, there’s approximately one month before its scheduled release date when you simply cannot avoid images of Chan Marshall. She appears on the cover of some magazines and on the inside pages of just about every other, always, always hiding behind her hair, the same way Eddie Vedder (who appeared on the last Cat Power record, You Are Free) did back in the early 90s. If you actually read any of the articles accompanying these images, you’ll find a young woman constantly talking about how uncomfortable she is with all the attention and praise being heaped upon her. And by now, you’re probably getting just a little bit sick of it. Maybe you’re thinking, “Hmm…Why not make like your good pal Eddie Vedder and simply don’t agree to be photographed so goddamn much?” And maybe you’re so tired of the whole thing that if she weren’t so obnoxiously talented, you’d stop listening to her records too.
You just might have a chance, now that she’s released The Greatest, which had potential to be one of the greatest rock records ever. It was recorded in Memphis with a slew of legendary soul musicians, an idea that seemed so incredibly brilliant that I honestly had no idea why she didn’t try it sooner — until I heard the record.
It’s not all bad, of course. At their core, her songs are still the same, which is to say that they’re kind of haunting, very sad and extremely delicate, consisting of subtle, well-written lyrics. The record’s biggest problems, stem from just how good the band is. You get all sorts of offbeat strings and dramatic horns, bobbing and weaving their way through thoughtful guitar and bass arrangements, ultimately creating an energy that’s thoroughly enjoyable. When it comes time for Marshall to do her thing, she’s completely overshadowed. She’s dabbling with a genre that isn’t generally suited to quiet, self-conscious indie rockers, and it shows. If she wasn’t able to make The Greatest everything it could have been because she’s genuinely too shy, too uncomfortable with the idea of getting behind a microphone and being a strong, confident artist, then it’s a shame, but a valiant effort nonetheless. If she just couldn’t be bothered to cast aside that vulnerable, troubled girl image the way she does when it comes time for those big photo shoots, though, it’s downright unforgivable.