Listening to Cat Power’s The Greatest is like an evening spent in a smoky, boozy after hours dive amongst the heartbroken. If you enjoy a little anguish you’ll love Chan Marshall’s latest, but if you depress easily, put the sharp objects away.The Greatest is manipulative but enjoyable and even enchanting. Recording in Memphis with Al Green and Booker T’s former band has brought out the best in Marshall, a southerner herself. Damaged, vulnerable and mysterious, she’s a minimalist with world-weary vocals; she sits at her piano or strums a guitar and opens her heart.
The first track “The Greatest” sets the tone as Marshall sings, “Once I wanted to be the greatest/No wind or waterfall could stop me/And then came the rush of the flood/The stars at night turned you to dust.” One track runs into the next, like a dream. In “Empty Shell” she languishes, “all that is left is an empty shell/of my heart that is crushed.” You see where it’s going pretty fast.
The up-tempo “Could We” is sexy and lighthearted. Drums, guitar and horns groove like the playful afternoon the song describes. “What a dream/in the grass/we kissed/fell in love too fast too soon/love full bloom.”
In “Hate” and “Where is My Love” it’s just Marshall and her guitar or piano. The latter is the most manipulative track as Marshall cries, “Where is my love/Safe and warm/So close to me/In my arms/Finally.” Eloquent and tragic, it illustrates how compelling she can be.
The Greatest is completely engaging but leaves you feeling a little woozy when it’s over.