What Would the Community Think was the second album Chan Marshall released in 1996, but its richness suggests a longer period of evolution. From the first warm notes of "In this Hole," it's clear that Marshall's voice -- as a singer and a songwriter -- is not only stronger and more focused, but more empathetic as well. Where her previous works were dense and cathartic, What Would the Community Think gives her voice and lyrics space to unfurl and involve the listener; the title track alone holds an album's worth of eloquence in Marshall's hushed, clear vocals, backed by guitar, feedback, and an eerie, echoing piano. Fortunately, that leaves Marshall 11 other tracks with which to forge a fine balance between angular, angst-ridden punk and her gentler, folk-country tendencies. Different combinations of these extremes make Cat Power's sound more diverse but also more cohesive. Tense, tight songs like "Good Clean Fun" and "Nude as the News" retain the reflective, thoughtful nature of quieter numbers like "King Rides By" and "Water and Air," which turn the power of the album's louder moments into slow-building, implosive tension. Two of What Would the Community Think's finest moments, "They Tell Me" and "Taking People," are unabashedly blues and country-inflected, revealing Marshall not just as a cathartic vocalist, but as a true soul singer. Similarly, her covers of Peter Jefferies' "Fate of the Human Carbine" and Smog's "Bathysphere" show off Marshall's ability to make any song a Cat Power song. An intimate, personal album, What Would the Community Think makes imperfection beautiful and turns vulnerability into musical strength.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares