There’s a definite ceiling for something like Covers, but Cat Power continues to break through.
Cat Power made a name for herself across not only an extensive solo career, but according to her knack for covers. Her first record of such material (2000’s The Covers Record) was a huge success, with multiple songs being featured in films throughout the following decade. Now, over two decades later, she has returned with Covers, an album that largely sets out to do the same thing. If the sign of a good cover is capturing the spirit of the original while bringing your own flair to the track, her latest is certainly full of these successes.
Given her predilection, it shouldn’t surprise that covers have been a mainstay of the Cat Power live show for quite a long time. While some of these operate as an outro or accompaniment to one of her originals, many of them stand as notable works in their own right. It’s an approach that sticks on her latest record: take, for example, her cover here of Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion,” which imbues much of the melody of her track “In Your Face.” This process of adaptation and transposition makes for an interesting, textured listen, as pieces of the original are clearly gleaned in what has ultimately become an utterly new song. Other covers are a little more straightforward, like Nico’s “These Days,” an oft-covered track that doesn’t necessarily present anything new in its rendition, but still registers as a pleasing listen. But even cuts of mild ambition testify to Power’s eclectic taste, with covers from modern artists like Ocean and previous collaborator Lana Del Rey butting up against classic artists like Billie Holiday, with a little bit of everything in between. Continuing her tendency toward introspection here, Cat Power also covers her own song “Hate” from album The Greatest, retitling this new version “Unhate.” Re-working songs is a part of her process, she claims, and she treats everything she’s written as a fluidity, an opportunity for a new canvas in the future. The result is a sound cut through with the deep emotion of reflection and growth.
There’s a definite ceiling for something like a covers album, but Cat Power seems intent on breaking through with each attempt. While most artists would flounder under the weight of such a task, wearing another’s songs like clothes that are too large, Power instead relishes the opportunity for artistic cosplay, retaining her signature while also finding inspiration in the work of others. Her records of original music are of course always a welcome development, but what Covers proves is that where most artists might utilize such a record as a bridge project before dropping new material, Cat Power instead sees ample opportunity to continue advancing her sonic evolution in impressive fashion, with just a little help from others.
Published as part of Album Roundup — January 2022 | Part 2.