Cat Powers’ third covers album – following 2000’s The Covers Record and 2008’s Jukebox – is quite possibly not the best place to start your Cat Power journey if you’ve yet to be enticed by her. But we’ll put a pin in that rabbithole for now.
Things to know up front – the range of covers on offer here is quietly thrilling: Frank Ocean’s ‘Bad Religion’, Iggy Pop’s ‘The Endless Sea’, The Pogues’ ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, Jackson Browne’s ‘These Days’ (famously previously covered by Nico), Nick Cave’s ‘I Had a Dream, Joe’, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, a song made famous by Billie Holliday and – audaciously you might say – herself (she covers ‘Hate’ from the 2006 album, The Greatest as ‘Unhate’), among others. If you were to dive in at the songs you knew, you’d quickly see these songs no longer belong to their owners. This is a Cat Power album as surely as anything else she has done.
It’s worth saying, it’s more than the arrangements that are tinkered with. Power cuts lyrics. Tweaks. Adds new lines on occasion. Her choices seem intent with ulterior motives. Covers isn’t an album that takes you by the hand. This is an album that reveals its pleasures uneasily. It would be easy to let the album run on in the background and miss what it had to show you. It might be you don’t get snagged until Power’s cover of ‘Pa Pa Power’ (originally performed by Ryan Gosling’s band, of all things) – it has a strident guitar motif, a breathy (pa pa power) pop vocal. The pump organ rendition of The Pogues’ classic is a warm and (by the standards of this record) comforting sound. Maybe it will be ‘These Days’ (just Power and an acoustic) that hooks you.
It’s possible, if you’re the kind of person who gives an album a listen or two, that Cat Power’s Covers won’t be for you. It’s a collection of songs that requires you to spend time in its company. It might be that the best way to hear these songs is on shuffle, each song turning up like a strange friend to remind you of how long it’s been. Ah, you might say – here is Cat Powers covering The Replacements’ ‘Here Comes a Regular’. Here is Cat Power covering Lana Del Rey’s ‘White Mustang’. It might be that – to unpin that pin – you were interested in Cat Power and wanted to know where to start. We’d direct you to the aforementioned album, The Greatest. This one is for people who have an idea of what they are getting.
Words by Pete Wild