Mixtapes for Hookers


2003. Song #1 Can’t Stand To See You Be A Bad Man
December 13, 2009, 11:37 pm
Filed under: design of a decade, lists, music | Tags: , ,

1. Cat Power, Good Woman

The 00’s seem to have been a good decade for Chan Marshall, the singer-songwriter who had spent had most of the nineties cultivating a career out of misery and paranoia.

At the beginning of this decade, she plumbed previously undiscovered depths of lonesome despair with The Covers Record.  But over time she seemed to get happier and happier, less afraid of herself and less afraid of the music she was making.  In 2008 she recorded another covers album, Jukebox, which bears little resemblance to The Covers Record; Jukebox is pretty good, classy in a Starbucks way, polished and featuring a full band.  Marshall made it into a lot of magazines, toured without having breakdowns mid-performance, and even appeared in Chanel ads.  Those are all good things, regardless of what fans of her older material might think of the shift.

But Marshall’s metamorphosis was a gradual one, and not without its awkward moments.  About half of 2003’s You Are Free is  surprisingly forgettable, as she makes her first ventures away from boundless despair.  Songs like Werewolf and He War are rough enough to appeal to fans of  her earlier material, but other tracks, Free and Maybe Not, hint at a more polished outlook.

But the best track on You Are Free—and, I think, the best Cat Power song of all—occupies a space somewhere in the middle.  It’s still extremely sad, but it balances internal sorrow with a scratchy awareness of other people’s feelings.

The song documents a dreadful breakup from the perspective of a sorrowful woman jumping ship right before things get too painfully ugly.  It’s a blast of awkward noise disguised as a country song.  Two kids sing backup in the background, hauntingly buried beneath creaky strings.  Eddie Vedder makes a ghostly appearance, too, as the lover.  (Though I am by no means a Pearl Jam fan, I’m always impressed by the range of emotion Vedder can channel through his unironic grumble.)

Songs about people giving up hope are often the best songs.  Avery excellent, and musically very different, song about this topic is Kelly Clarkson’s hyper-produced Ryan Tedder ballad Already Gone.  But where Kelly’s trying to muster the strength to face the inevitable, Chan’s reasoning is all internalized.  Already Gone is about a couple who were always meant to say goodbye, but the narrator of Good Woman doesn’t think about fate.  She just thinks about how sad she is, and how she’s going to be even sadder no matter what happens.

Of course, it helps that Cat Power has a lot of experience singing about sadness, and her slow, sad drawl is that of a woman who spends a lot of time alone and likes it that way.


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