Friday, February 15, 2008

1. Kitty Litter

Here's the first in a series of slightly delayed reviews.

1. Cat Power – Jukebox

Verdict: Avoid like the plague

Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, is a veteran at this covers lark. Back in 2000 she became a darling of the Uncut and Mojo world with the release of “The Covers Record”, a genuinely heartfelt and, at times, remarkably touching covers disc that saw Cat wrap her husky, dulcet and distinct voice around songs by Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Smog and even Moby. It was quite a feat, and her fragile versions of well known rockers carried enough imagination for even the original songwriters to laud her. Sadly with her return to the covers formula she’s more than likely going to have the original artists lining up to shoot her. “Jukebox” is possibly one of the most spirit-free, energy-sapping, unimaginative and downright degrading covers albums since Paul Weller dealt with his writers block by unleashing an album of "his favourite songs", the hopeless and instantly dated “Studio 150”.

After her first covers disc, Cat seemed to be going places. She followed it up with the excellent, and again moving, album “You Are Free”. She then royally fucked it up with the self-indulgent “Speaking for Trees”, an arty DVD/CD set. The DVD consisted of bad footage of Cat performing ‘au naturel’ off the side of some freeway. It was obviously shot by a drinking buddy and sold onto Matador as a ‘one shot’ art project in return for a case of whiskey.

The resulting piss up eventually brought her to Memphis where the label hooked her up with some seasoned Southern Memphis players – grizzled vets of studio housebands who had been there, done that, and not received a dime in royalties for it. Together they harnessed little or no energy and created the feather light but, it has to be said, often engaging album “The Greatest”. It grew after much repeated listening, but I felt Cat was terrified to use the players at her disposal, and it felt that even they didn’t have much confidence in their new charge.

And now, staring once more into a creative abyss, Cat Power has managed to sour an occasionally promising career with one of the worst pieces of crap I have ever had the misfortune of buying.

It opens promisingly enough with a rather remarkable, upbeat cover of the Sinatra standard “New York”. Wait a minute, you think, this could be good. You remember “You Are Free” and that first covers disc. Sadly, any good this album possesses dies after those all-too-brief 2 minutes.

Hank Williams’ “Rambling Man”, covered to perfection by Mark Lanegan a few years ago, is reimagined as “Rambling (Wo)man” and the less said about it the better. I’ve heard Hank Williams covered to death across the world, from Delvin to Delhi, but I have never once heard anyone make this tragic figure’s lyrics sound trite, contrived and boring. But Cat Power manages just that. Awful beyond words.

An instantly forgettable crawl of an original that sounds like a depressed Sinead O’Connor singing as gaelige, and a woeful cover of the horse stealing cowboy song “Silver Stallion” (which features a child playing slide guitar) pass by and then this fast-fading honky tackles “Aretha, Sing One For Me.”

I have genuinely heard better Status Quo b-sides than this hash of a cover. If “the” Quo had the gall to cover a black standard, at least they’d do it with a nod, a wink and you wouldn’t mind. Well you would, you wouldn’t listen to it. If Aretha ever hears this she’ll be out for Cat’s head. Out of time sloppy drums, a guitarist forgetting his licks, the bridge from “Rescue Me” thrown in at the wrong place and a few uncomfortable pauses make for extremely uncomfortable listening. This isn’t a re-imagining, or a tribute, this is an insult.

And just before it couldn’t possibly get worse, it does. James Brown’s “Lost Someone” is, er, lost. She pleads for help throughout – “Help me, help me, please, please, please, good God almighty” she sings, without so much as dropping her lyrics sheet, never mind dropping to her knees. She puts about as much passion into it and sings with as much conviction as a reluctant captain of a losing Camoige team would if she was asked to sing Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” after her team had been annihilated 10-5 to 0-01 in an Inter-County Final. Thank God it only lasts less than three minutes. If James Brown was alive to actually hear this shit, he’d whip out that shotgun of his and hunt this kitty down.

"Lord Help the Poor and Needy in this Land” sounds like a demo recorded with a guitarist who had just joined the band five minutes earlier on account he could sound like a twangy blues man. Cat sings about motherless children, and countless other unfortunates, with absolutely no palpable sense of care or concern.

“I Believe in You” follows. Hang about; is this a Rolling Stones b-side circa “Steel Wheels”? Nope. Chance would be a fine thing. It’s a Dylan cover? Jesus, I’ve heard Bob Dylan sing this better than Chan. And just you wait for the overdubbed keyboard solo to come in! Yet another lazy waste of time. Mercifully, it fades out just as the “band” are allowed to “cut loose” by the former singer. Next.

What’s this? A piano? Sounds interesting. Oh, it’s an original, and strangely enough, the second best song on the album. Even Bob Dylan will be impressed that it's been written about him. Sadly, there then follows three more insults to Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell (how could anyone make “Blue” sound so bad?) and Janis Joplin, a singer Cat Power so desperately wants to emulate. We’ll have to approximate a famous football line; she’s not even fit to spike her drinks. There was a second disc in the version I went to inordinate lengths to buy, but I'm not even going to bother writing about it.

This album is so bad it represents something of a cultural shitegeist for the covers genre. In fact “Jukebox” is so bad, it's actually quite difficult to describe without opting for toilet talk. It is without doubt, the single worst album I have heard so far this year - possibly in a whole year - and is further proof that despite (sporadically) promising so much, Cat Power has evolved into one of the most talentless and over-rated indie queens in a long, long, long time. If a cat shit this out, she's be too ashamed to even cover it in sand.

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