What Would the Community Think

Cat Power’s first major-label release on Matador records, in 1996. From the same urban country ethos as Smog, Songs:Ohia, and Palace Brothers, Chan Marshall sings blues lyrics that sound like they were written by an eloquent glassy-eyed waitress at a diner off the interstate. She is backed by the drummer from Sonic Youth Steve Shelley and guitarist/bassist Tim Foljhan from Two Dollar Guitar. Among fans and critics, What Would the Community Think is the first of three must-buy albums from Cat Power, the other two being Moon Pix (1998) and You are Free (2003).

Track 1: In This Hole (4:59)

Opening track. Marshall’s voice seems to be whispering to you over the phone at 3 a.m. from a diner somewhere in Nevada. There is no reason for her to call you but you’re glad she did. She’s that scary dark hot girl from high school who you wouldn’t talk to because she’d think you were dumb. Where should I hang my head/Where would you like for me to hang my head? The arrangement, a guitar and some sort of bell, is Leonard Cohen-spare. You might be tempted to hate on Marshall as a pretentious whiner. Stay that for a song or two. I know this I know this, you know this you know this/In this hole that we have faced/We get further and further and further from what we must do.

Track 2: Good Clean Fun (4:46)

Drums and guitar. Marshall:After this there will be no one/After this there will be no one/ After this there will be heads on different bodies. There is something fascinating about her voice. It is husky and smoky. There is a threadbare southern twang that shows itself under the melody. Like a Tennessee Williams character. Brick as a woman. After this there will be less interest/After this there will be no one. What is this, Chan? What’s the imminent disaster? You know it’s something insignificant like a calendar turning. When I was a kid my sister used to cry for hours without being able to sleep because of global warming. Even though she was 5 and it didn't matter and she didn’t even really know what she was crying about that didn’t make the sadness less real. After this there will be no more/ good clean fun.

Track 3: What Would the Community Think (4:30)

Some sort of Joplinesque keyboard, a ponderous guitar riff and some gentle feedback. Paint me a soundscape. The sound is fattening up. Marshall’s voice as if hesitant to mess everything up enters quietly. You are so beautiful/You are so beautiful. She talks of what she shouldn’t say but she says it all anyway. The feedback is like the shrill schoolmarm’s censorious reaction.You are sooooo beautiful/You are soooo beautiful. Swelling pianos. Only real emotion deserves notice. Something has to shine in the noise.

Track 4: Nude as the News (4:23)

Woah. Some sorta rock song out of nowhere. Pulsing backbeat. Marshall, loud and proud and lilting: I still have a flame goin’/for the cute cute cute ones. There is a huge man alluded to who is leading us all into temptation. He is probably wearing mirrored sunglasses. He’s standing in the cold light. Evil magnetism radiates from his smile. Jackson, Jesse, I’ve got the son in me/He’s related to you he’s related to you/He’s waiting to meet you. You escape as fast as you can. Live at 5, car chase continues. Between what happens and what’s shown, that's where the songs are.

Track 5: They Tell Me (2:53)

Stripped-down blues song. They tell me what they do/I don’t know what they’re talking about. Instead of death and drinking, wives and lovers, the subject of the song is an awkward conversation. Maybe if I prey to the lord above/I’ll get some sleep/But the lord don’t give a shit about me. Forsaken in the modern world. Leave the despair and take away anything to pin it on.

Track 6: Taking People (3:25)

Swirling guitar and drums. Minor chords. Marshall’s voice like felt rubbing against itself. Who, who never told you about the perfect life. Her vocal is layered in two tracks, backing herself up. If I was a photographer the picture taken, beautiful people/I guess I’d make a mistake 'cause I'd probably take a picture of you. Why is it so hard, Chan? Part of it’s the illusion of a perfect life. Nothing’s ever picture-perfect. You’ll never know inside of me/and that’s all I have. Poor beautiful girl, you scoff. Poor poor beautiful girl.

Track 7: Fate of the Human Carbine (2:58)

Way darker. Back to the guitar and voice. We all come and peep through a hole in the wall/Keep the bastards guessin'. Suddenly we’re in a pickup truck with a guy driving home from his job or something. Takes the long way home. Greeted to the time-defying television’s lonely glow in his house. Watches the film about the evening sky/That was someone else’s dream. We’re all looking through the hole in the wall. We’re watching this guy who’s watching life go by. We all come and peep through a hole in the wall/Cause you look so impressive. A nation of voyeurs watching people watching people watching people forever and ever amen.

Track 8: King Rides By (4:03)

Something sweet and warm in the guitar, California sounds. A children's story for adults. Would I be in your novel/Would I begin and end in it? Let’s imagine a new world. If I had a place a space for your little-boy eyes/Could you really believe/I certainly dare you/I do not want to scare you/Any more. What became of the wonder? Where are the kings and the heroes? What will the knight-errant do with a couch for a steed, a king with a recliner as a throne? I need your love/ More than you'll ever know. Some great adventure, some vent for our archetypal striving. Oh what a fuss when king trades…oh love my love for someone else's hand. Love is the only bold adventure left. Crescendo, finally, rise up rise up from the grey! I need your love/More than you’ll ever know.

Track 9: Bathysphere (3:01)

Some strange 1996 electronic bleeps loop with the guitar. When I was seven, I told my mother, take me to the bay and put me on a ship. Her chorus pure vocal percussion. When everything else is hushed, she earns the spine-tingling effect of some emoting. When I was seven/My father said to me/That you can’t swim/And I never dreamed of the sea again. Protect kids from pain at their peril. Without the danger there is no life. There is no urgency. Let"s go down deeper in the sea.

Track 10: Water and Air (4:43)

We’re underwater. There is an cardiac pulsing in the background, currents moving, waves and eddies and cycles. My lover drifted down the river/below the dark water/devil all around him. There is unimaginable urgency in Marshall’s voice.Last night was a party/I could not go/ I walked around and thought about it/all night long. The futures swirl around like a roulette wheel. I did not want you to die you alone/run run as fast as you can/oh run! Tougher to hit a moving target. Oh to be at the bottom of a river!/Below the dark water!/The devil all around, the devil all around. Or die while alive, watching it all float by.

Track 11: Enough (4:25)

Tension back. Edge. The guitar slightly dissonant. Here they come and I can watch closer now. Disembodied observer. Wraith in your own life. They can’t find enough/to take enough from me. So tear me apart, vultures. I seen the hordes/looking down that drain of yours. I surrender. Take me apart for your science experiment. Dissect me and try to find the cause of disharmony. She said I just want to be happy. The reason is the rictus is the right. Cartoon of blue jays/ cartoon of black bay too/intuition knocked again/all of you should know by now/there’s not enough to go round!

Track 12: The Coat is Always On (3:34)

Mother don't sit/Mother don't stand. There are maracas, guitars and a male speaking voice overlaid on Marshall’s lyrics creating an effect like VU’s Venus in Furs. Father said he was gonna give me something/he gave me hate. Go back further. Go back to the first drama. Brother can’t even speak/brother is old and gray/and he's only 17. Corrosive. We need so much more than everyone can give us. There is no culpability. There is only a duty to make sense. What happened to home?/what happened to home sweet/what happened to home sweet home? Look at the entrails of your past and divine the mystery in the viscera. Look at the aftermath and pick meaning from the rubble. Keep your eyes wide open when you're going down so you can write about it later. Marshall, chanteuse of the trailer-park, patron saint of depressive sincerity, sing loud.

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