Chan Marshall was once in the midst of a Sybil Dorsett moment. The fictionalized battle of the young woman with dissociative identity disorder is a powerful effect of mind over matter. The human mind succumbs to varied trauma and fear, adapting accordingly. Receptors begin to dysfunction and personalities begin to diverge. Traits become tightly packed into stereotypes, a person’s normal behavior shifts, and in extreme conditions splits into multiples.
Marshall’s battles with alcoholism, grandeur and psychosis became the reasons behind her cult status. Audiences buying tickets like eager children at a carnival to see the freak, Marshall using it as ammunition to sever herself into personality fragments. The results were a string of uneven albums, showing much promise but failing to deliver on those glimpses of brilliance behind the vulnerability. It was the tipping point as Marshall broke down shortly after her last set of original material, The Greatest.
Six years in the making, Sun is Dr. Cornelia Wilbur; the comforting but determined psychiatrist ridding Marshall of her inner demons; the pressure and abuse she lumped on herself for past failures and erratic behavior. The 13 personalities of Marshall come together in time for a career renaissance without an ounce of cynicism.
Sun is as fragile and confessional as Marshall’s best work. But the confidence in modern technology–and further, her new found peace–showcases the triumphant persona long hiding behind hissy fits and hysterics. The album’s first side embraces those old lash outs, unashamed of what it has wrought. Lead single “Ruin” and follow-up “3,6,9” are emblematic statements, strong in the belief that her path to this point was for a reason.
“Ruin” embraces Marshall’s past while challenging her own inactivity–along with that of the rest of us (“What are we doing?/Sitting on a ruin”). Those of privileged lives complaining about a world crumbling, only to do nothing about it; Marshall’s own travels our own map to apathy. Rather than place herself in a lonesome spotlight, she puts herself on trial castrating all who choose voices over action.
The confession continues with “3,6,9” as Marshall continues to pour the truth all over Sun. Recounting a past she has no connection with and the need to turn to the bottle (‘3,6,9/You drink wine/Monkey on your back/You feel just fine”) to remedy feelings of emptiness from a life that has yet to be lived.
It’s a trope revisited through much of Sun with the chill-inducing realism of “Real Life” and “Human Being” pressing the issue. Marshall comes to terms with life as nothing but a series of events building toward man-made goals. Her priorities and beliefs were skewed by expectation rather than what was, Sun turning from confessional toward apology as it crosses the finish line.
But it’s the soundtrack to Marshall’s metamorphosis that will make waves. Sun adopts an electro-acoustic palate, fleshing out the accessible melodies with a rich tapestry of odd notes, syncopations and mild drones. The production is slick, often employing faint echo and distortion to add depth to Marshall’s reliance of traditional rock guitar and piano wisps. Marshall’s voice is as crisp as ever, with a sense of urgency rather than a demur tone. “Peace and Love” caps off Marshall’s mad dash back to whole but also contains the first negative message of Sun. Chastising a generation for an ethos it never lived up to, “Peace and Love” is Marshall working out her own broken promises and shortcomings after an album that reckoned to mend them. These are scars that will take years to heal but Marshall is finally willing to bear that pain rather than to deny it. Once opener “Cherokee” queues itself up again, the brief burst of anger is forgotten as Marshall waxes giddily (yes, giddily) about a love she’s never experienced.
Sun is what Marshall has been working toward professionally and personally for nearly two decades. Whatever roadblocks and self-destruction once stood in her way is now but the remnants of a life now lived rather than slept walked. Despite maintaining her confessional presence, Sun is hope amidst a gray day. There is good that comes with the bad, Marshall finally accepting penance for her transgressions. There are moments of Marshall pressing the issue a bit too hard (“3,6,9” and “Peace and Love” do teeter on the preachy) but when the clouds part and integration occurs, forceful parts of the unified personality are going to fight for control. Against her past course of action, Marshall is letting it all play out in front of us without fear of repercussion. Sun works because it’s natural. Apologetic, sincere and sober, say hello to the real Chan Marshall.