We live in a world where even the most minor celebrity ‘crisis’ is blown up out of all proportion. I recently spotted the cover of Heat, or some similar publication, fretting about Cheryl (Cole or Tweedy, whatever you’re having yourself) and her 3am dash to McDonalds. Viewed through any prism, Chan Marshall’s story is one of bona fide tragedy and turmoil.
Marshall – Cat Power to you and me – has endured a tumultuous life for almost all of her forty years. She grew up with a family heavily immersed in alcoholism, while still living in her native Atlanta in the mid-1990s, her then-boyfriend died. This was the first of a number of setbacks for the some-time actress, model and charity worker. Drug and alcohol addiction and on-stage meltdowns followed. An achingly honest 2006 interview with Spin, done just after Marshall had emerged from a spell in a psychiatric ward, paints a clear picture of where she was at that point in her life – “I was drinking from the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to bed…I really wanted to die. When you’re that depressed, it’s not even “depressed” anymore. You’ve just given up. There’s nothing inside you that’s good.”
Interestingly, during that interview, Marshall was asked about her next album release – Sun. “It will come out in spring of 2008” she said. She also name-checks five songs which were to appear on Sun – only one of the five mentioned, Silent Machine – is present on the album, but then a lot can change in four years.
What of the album then? Lead single (track three on the album) Ruin caught my ear during its many plays on Phantom FM of late, with its jaunty, almost out-of-kilter piano-and-drums intro. Indeed, Ruin, and the two tracks which precede it – Cherokee and Sun – are somewhat out of keeping with the rest of the album. Cherokee’s stark piano-led opening is supplemented with judiciously sparing use of electric guitar as the song moves towards the chorus, and the beat has a drum-and-bass feel to it, though Marshall’s lilting, layered harmonies are the perfect veil for this.
The synth-laiden Sun put me in mind of Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer, and there’s a touch of Marina’s Mowgli’s Road about the vocal ‘ooh-oohing’ on 3,6,9. Given the recent rise to prominence of the likes of Florence, Natasha Khan the aforementioned Ms Diamandis in the years since Marshall’s last release, it is no surprise that most tracks carry some of the hallmarks of these artists, be it the synth that adorned much of Khan’s Two Suns, the hypnotic drumming of Lungs or the quirky vocal stylings that Marina & The Diamonds use to such good effect.
None the less, the album is a personal triumph for Marshall – who, for good measure, plays all the instruments on the recording. Iggy Pop makes an appearance on Nothin But Time – an uplifting, ten-minute call-to-arms for those of us who, perhaps, are at as low an ebb as Marshall herself once was. “Never give away your friends…Never never ever give in…It’s up to you to be a superhero.”
It would be a fitting way to end, but Marshall closes out the forty-eight minutes with Peace and Love, a track which appears to underline her desire to be respected as an artist while also maintaining her stoic individualism. It’s as good a way as any to sign off, given that the overriding feeling of the lyrics on Sun revolve around that base urge to remain true to herself, as well as impelling the rest of us to do the same and make the best of ourselves – “I want to live my way of living” (Always On My Own), “You got two hands, let’s go and make anything” (Human Being), “100,000 hits on the internet, but that don’t mean a shit even if you’re legitimate” (Peace and Love).
Four years later than planned it may be, but Sun has definitely been worth waiting for, and represents the re-emergence of Marshall from a very dark place. In a time when mental health issues are to the fore in Ireland, her message bears listening to.