48.) Cat Power - The Greatest (2006)

As I've been reading some of the already published lists of the best records of the decade, I've been puzzled by the omission on many of them of Cat Power's The Greatest. Prior to The Greatest Chan Marshall (Cat Power) released a number of records admired by music geeks, but in truth they were uneven. They had great moments but there seemed to be an inability to create something wholly satisfying.

Enter The Greatest. Like most Cat Power, The Greatest is a bit dour - you know there's sadness and heartbreak and... well you know the drill, but The Greatest also has something that had been missing from Cat Power's records up to this point...hope. Some have argued that she'd lost her edge on The Greatest and have likened the record to adult contemporary. Stupid. The Greatest is most certainly not the damaged Chan Marshall some had grown to love, but my mother's not listening to this record any time soon I can assure you.

The Greatest introduced the world to a confident Cahn Marshall. An artist who wasn't going to fall apart the second she hit the stage. A musician, not a train wreck. Some people wanted the train wreck, which seemed weird to me. They prefer an unhappy Chan Marshall because they like the music better? Gross.

Anyway, the record. It's gorgeous. Marshall enlisted the help of some Memphis soul legends to work as her backing band for the record and the result is a different kind of Cat Power. Way less indie-rock pretentious and colored with a different, but wholly fitting sound for her fragile and beautiful voice. The title track is one of the best in Cat Power's entire catalog, complete with an effectively haunting string section and just a few tracks later "Lived in Bars" is even better. And that's how The Greatest unfolds. It's powered by this magnificent band but anchored in Chan Marshall's world - evident by the closing two tracks "Hate" and "Love and Communication" - and that happy medium turned out to be the recipe for Marshall's best and most accessible work yet.

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