Cat Power: Moon Pix (1998)
Phil: A handful of winters ago I met up with an old roommate of mine at a Belgian beer bar for happy hour that happened to have half-off Belgian draughts from 4:30 to 6:30. So there we were, in the glow of yellow lights and green carpet, talking about those kids we hadn’t seen in forever, about ex-girlfriends and abandoned buildings and photographs, just getting pretty damn drunk. So I walk out of the bar, and stumble the few blocks to the bus station, trying to make sure I don’t miss the 500 because it’s pretty damn cold and I get to the bus stop and of course I miss the bus because I’ve been drinking and have completely lost track of time so I put on my headphones not remembering which damn album I left in my walkman and
there it was. I wrote about it then:
She starts and it’s backwards, American Flag coming in with a reversed drum kit, and the rest of the record is falling backwards as the world moves under you; the drums are off on pretty much every song they’re played and the jangles of the clean guitars cut through the fog while still adding to it.
And that backwards drum kit is actually sampled from The Beastie boys’ “Paul Revere,” but it’s slowed down enough to make it initially fresh and exciting.
Adam: I’ve written about my undying love for Cat Power on these pages before, so it might come as a surprise to some that I find Moon Pix slightly disappointing. It was the third or fourth album of hers I acquired, and I bought it after hearing all over the place that it was her best. My initial reaction to “American Flag” was disappointment. I generally don’t like nebulous music that doesn’t seem to go anyhwhere, and that’s what I hear in “American Flag” and most of the rest of the first half of this album.
Where things really kick in for me is “Colors and the Kids.” It’s the first song that holds my attention all the way through, despite it being, at six-and-a-half minutes, the longest song on the album. I don’t know if it’s the simple piano melody or her sultry voice. Her voice always gets me, but in this case it might be the combination of the piano and her voice.
Following “Colors and the Kids” is another standout, “Cross Bones Style.” Far and away the most uptempo song on the record, it has a beat that is almost danceable. The song is apparently about the injustices in the diamond industry, but I just like the general morbid tone of the lyrics coupled with the upbeat backing track. “Say” and the original version of “Metal Heart” (the self-cover on Jukebox is superior, however) also stand out in my mind amidst the nebulous sound that dominates the album.
Phil: I’m not going to say this album is any better than her other albums, but for me, it’s the one I connect with most, the one that goes straight to my heart-ears. The nebulosity of the first half of the record reminds me of this space where you have feelings that you can’t quite articulate but then you have some words but those words are more signposts than anything, textures and sentiments and the feeling you have when you know what you want to say but haven’t found the words to say it yet.
It’s probably also because Jim White and Mick Turner (of Dirty Three) are her band for this record that I love it so much. Dirty Three is nebulous enough as it is, and the White/Turner side project (Tren Brothers) is even more so, making sense that this album, too would be so vague and ethereal. But Chan Marshall does such a nice job of making sure her songs come through. “Big Monster Lover/Hangerpusherover.” I don’t know.
Adam: I came up with a theory about this album while listening to it this morning on my way to work. Its quality increases exponentially. Each song is a little better than the one before it, and once you get to the two songs I mentioned above, they’re markedly better than the ones before them. The final track, “Peking Saint,” is kind of a comedown. It’s like the “Her Majesty” of this album.
With regards to “Back of Your Head,” I love the way she delivers the line “Couldn’t park that fuckin’ car.” It just pops out of the arrangement and makes you pay attention to what she’s saying.
I like her next album of original songs, You Are Free more than Moon Pix, probably for the same reason you like Moon Pix, Phil: the backing musicians. You Are Free features Dave Grohl on drums and Eddie Vedder sings back up on a couple songs. It also features Bad Seed/Dirty Three member Warren Ellis on a couple tracks.
Phil: Good points there, Adam. I’m going to go ahead and add “Say” because it may be one of the most direct songs about communication I’ve ever heard and “Metal Heart,” mostly because I think it’s a great song regardless of the performer. David Bazan did a really nice version on his 2004 tour EP.
4 Essential Tracks
“Colors and the Kids”
“Cross Bones Style”