“I want to die,” said the Sibyl at Cumae, the ancient oracle invoked throughout T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land—a mythic figure doomed to live till the sand ran out of the hourglass. Her helpless plea was echoed eons later by Chan Marshall, the artist known as Cat Power: “I hate myself and want to die,” she murmured on “Hate,” off 2006’s The Greatest, an acclaimed album written as the singer-songwriter slipped into a dark, substance-blurred abyss of depression.
Six years later, Marshall has changed her tune. “I want to live,” she purrs over a slinky backdrop of loping drums and eerie harmonics on “Always on My Own” from Sun, the musician’s first album of original material since The Greatest. Marshall, who plays all the instruments on the album, sounds as though she’s rediscovering how to make music, and her arrangements—from the jaunty bossa nova-goosed piano loop that drives “Ruin,” to the spare, crunchy guitar-and-bass lurch of “Silent Machine”—crackle with exuberance.
There’s a directness to the lyrics that matches the clear-eyed vocals (bolstered at times by a clever textural use of Auto-Tune), which address you from high in the mix. “I never knew love like this,” she sings on opener “Cherokee,” “…I never knew pain / I never knew shame / and now I know why.”
Some diehards may yearn for the tear-smudged impressionism of Marshall’s earliest, lo-fi recordings, but they’re missing out on the brave, revelatory self-possession on Sun: A death-wish is archetypally poetic; it takes a visionary to make poetry out of the will to simply, hopefully live.
Playlist picks: “Ruin,” “Manhattan,” “Cherokee”