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Cat Power: Raw Power

Cat Power / Photo by Simon Burstall

A month later, Marshall is back in New York at a downtown photo studio following her European jaunt, looking every bit the casual style icon and laying waste to society’s revisionist idea that smoking doesn’t make you look cool. Mona roams the studio. Marshall has cut her hair even shorter because she was feeling sad, and now she’s a dead ringer for the Sun cover photo from 1992. (“Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? Go back to our old selves?”) Ribisi has just married model Agyness Deyn, only a couple months after Ribisi and Marshall broke up, gut-punch news which is compounded by a flotilla of European journalists insisting that Sun, which was written and recorded over the course of a few years — good years — is a breakup album.

It is anything but. The title track’s familiar opening line, right after a wash of synths and mechanized beats, is “Here comes the sun,” and the album rarely gets much less hopeful than that, even as it contemplates societal ruin. Its climactic, penultimate song is an 11-minute opus — anthem wouldn’t be a stretch — called “Nothin but Time,” written to cheer up Lucia when she was dealing with online bullies. Lucia was in love with Ziggy Stardust at the time, so Marshall tried to get David Bowie to sing on the track, which more than winks at “Heroes,” right down to the fake fade-out. Bowie wasn’t available, but she got the closest possible thing, fellow Miami resident Iggy Pop, to croon its chin-up refrain: “You can be your own superhero.”

Cat Power / Photo by Simon Burstall

And she’d do well to heed her own wisdom as she gets ready to spend the next year or so playing these songs to an audience that’s only grown more rapt in her absence and that has long played the role of a collective shoulder to cry on. Busy is good: She’s putting together a band and will play her first shows in October; she has to learn how the bleats and bloops and gizmos translate to actual human musicians. “Sheila E. would cost a fortune, right?” she jokes. Probably. It’s not always easy to tell.

Until then, Marshall is managing to keep the accomplishment of Sun compartmentalized from its aftermath, even if others­ — guilty — are not. “I challenged myself to do something I knew I had to do. I had to make myself play the instruments myself. I don’t have the knowledge, but I knew I could do it. The struggle makes you better.”

This story originally ran in SPIN’s September/October 2012 issue — order yours here now!