As Cat Power, Chan Marshall has simply smoldered in recent years. Originally a downcast indie rocker, she took a turn on 2006’s “The Greatest” to explore a more soulful shade of her blues. Marshall made a convincing, and compelling, torch singer — a Julie London for the young and the restless.
The latest Cat Power record, however, shelves the ornate orchestrations for a visceral new direction. “Sun,” her first album of original material in six years, is as bright as its namesake. Ripe with propulsive tempos, drum machines, and electronic embellishments, the album sounds like nothing else she’s ever done. And it’s pretty irresistible.
In retrospect, the first single was a warning shot, a clue that Marshall was about to undergo another reinvention. “Ruin” rides a Latin-pop piano melody over driving percussion. Her fleet lyrical flow, recounting the places she’s been and how she has seen people struggle, is a tongue twister; it’s the year’s most persistent earworm. Elsewhere, she dips into neo-R&B (“Real Life”), grimy blues (“Peace and Love”), and even industrial dissonance (“Always on My Own”).
Among the taut, muscular moments, there are shimmering songs that are among the most beautiful she has ever recorded. “Manhattan,” over the delicate plink of piano, is sly and sultry. On “Nothin But Time,” featuring a subtle vocal assist from Iggy Pop, Marshall asserts: “You ain’t got nothin’ but time/ And it ain’t got nothin’ on you.” (Out now)
Cat Power performs at the House of Blues on Oct. 24.James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.