Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
CAT POWER "YOU ARE FREE".....After a long wait, Ms. Power has released her first record of originals since 1998's fantastic Moon Pix, and it's really as good as they say it is -- really. She's back with a band on at least half the tracks, and they actually laid down a jagged post-punk feel, crossed of course with that voice. That cracked and wavering voice, which may be a little "fragile-flower"-esque for some of you, has been enhanced by some great production techniques that have her singing harmonies with herself, echoing in the background, and even somewhat sped up in parts (at least that's what it sounds like). There are also a bunch of solo piano and solo guitar numbers that many will call -- have called -- "depressing", but fans of well-written rock music will find them nothing if not uplifting. She's a very clever songwriter, able to evoke deep moods and create enormous non-"pop" hooks that are remarkably simple.

Her whole live shtick is something else, too. I wrote after seeing her in 1998 on the Moon Pix tour, when she would stop her songs midway, apologize, hide behind her hair, apologize, mumble and nearly break down, apologize twenty times more, etc. that she had "easily the worst on-stage persona since the clown from the Necessary Evils". I've since made my peace with her live act, since I'm now 100% convinced it's not really an act. When playing a secret solo show at San Francisco's microscopic Hemlock Tavern a few weeks ago, she was pretty up-front about where she's coming from: "How will you know I messed up if I don't tell you 'I'm Sorry'?". Her logic is impeccable -- she's off the hook as far as I'm concerned. I'm not saying that she won't have to face a Juke Box Jury tribunal in fifteen years to see how her music stood up in the interim, but for now she continues on her winning streak and has now released four LPs worth of haunting, desperate rock music. I'm still most impressed with Ms. Power!