When Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, makes a cover, she reorients the emotional center of a song. For example, on her famous Covers Record she took the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to its logical extreme by eliminating the words in the chorus completely. By doing so, she left the listener unsatisfied and wide open to the deep loneliness she excavates from verses that Mick Jagger usually belts.
Her cover of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko’s “Stay” is no different.* The emphasis is moved away from the song’s memorable eruption into “I want you to stay.” Instead, the most notable moments in its accompanying video come when the camera circles Marshall and she lilts, “round and around and around and around we go,” letting loose a slow, dizzying protest against a love that’s disintegrating.
Marshall told this story in a New York Times interview about why she decided to cover the song:
“Stay” had stuck with her since she’d heard it years ago in someone’s car, she said. “An old lover, he was picking me up and he opened the door and that song was on the radio,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Oh, there’s my girl,’ and I thought he was talking about me, you know? Then the song ended and he turned off the radio, and I realized he was talking about Rihanna.
She sang it 16 times.
A few years later, not long after the birth of her son, she heard it again in a taxi and cried the whole ride. That night, she had plans to meet a friend at a karaoke bar, and decided “Stay” would be the only song she performed.
“Stay” is the only cover song on Cat Power’s upcoming album Wanderer, which will drop on Oct. 5 via Domino—after her longtime label Matador rejected the stripped-down album for its lack of “hits.” The album, which includes a collaboration with Lana Del Rey* called “Woman” features more of the sharp, unguarded vocals layered over blues roots that Marshall is known for.
Correction, Sept. 25, 2018: This post originally misspelled Mikky Ekko’s first name and Lana Del Rey’s last name.