As Forrest Gump so nearly once said, "Cat Power is a lot like a box of chocolates..." From the disparities in her albums, songs ranging from the brilliant to the banal, her now infamous appearances in the live arena, and her erratic behavior that somehow seems to tag along behind her from time to time; it's true. With Cat Power, you never really know what you're going to get. Inconsistency and an unwitting eccentricity have always come together to define everything about Chan Marshall and The Greatest is no exception.
From the off, the rampant volatility in the album become apparent, with "Greatest" and "Lived in Bars", soft piano driven numbers akin to "I Don't Blame You" from You Are Free, separated by the sub-ska ambiguity of "Living Proof". Similarly, "Could We" disappears into its own shell of horns and out of sight before emerging into the grass roots influenced "Empty Shell", which towers over the rest of the first half of The Greatest.
From "Empty Shell" until closer "Love and Communication," a haunting and surprisingly upbeat clavitone powered track, the album falls back on Cat Power's tried and tested sounds. Carrying the same old folk and American grass roots influences into an impalpable attraction to the modern. Only "The Moon," a typical Cat Power concoction of a simple electric guitar line and gentle drumbeats, and "Islands", with the addition of a pedal steel guitar, emerge above the blanket canopy of a few more piano driven songs, and a few unnecessary trumpets and saxophones that add nothing to the overall feel.
Carried within the same distinctive voice as always, whispering words that wave between abstractions and honesty. Moving from openly musing over loves lost and found to piecing together words, contrived to defy interpretation, The Greatest is an album of almost impossible contradiction. Diving from brilliance to lackluster in a matter of seconds, it both transcends and lies below anything Cat Power has managed before.
With the same roller coaster as You Are Free all over again and the same mix of mastery and butchery, it is the inconsistencies that define The Greatest. Carried by many of the same influences and augmented by the occasional appearance of jazz and ska tones, a whistled melody and the usual array of strings, pianos and clavitones. It is classic, genius Cat Power at times. At others, boring, uninventive and even disinteresting.
The Greatest only offers one certainty. That Cat Power is, now, not so much like a box of chocolates, but more like a bag of apples. While you are assured of the sweet, delicious Granny Smith's at the top, you are also guaranteed one or two rotten ones, hidden out-of-sight in the middle of the polythene bag, waiting to be stumbled across, bitten into and cast away as worthless and inedible. The trouble, as always, is that you always get the rotten ones when you least expect it.
7.9 / 10
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