Friday, 15 May 2009

Yusuf aka Cat Stevens "Roasdsinger" (2009) (News, Views and Music 31)








“Everybody’s thinking about the rain, wonder if the sun is gonna shine again – ooh, things are looking bad” “To be what you must you must give up who you are” “Every time I dream I am being lifted to a height that I’m too frightened to go” “As I close my eyes, like Crimson curtains slowly rising on an empty stage;, then I’m back in the stalls, sitting all lone, waiting for the show to begin” “Where do you go when hearts are closed; when a friend becomes a stranger nobody wants to know?”

Welcome Home/Thinkin' 'Bout You/Everytime I Dream/The Rain/World O' Darkness/Be What You Must/This Glass World/Roadsinger/All Kinds Of Roses/Dream On (Until...)/Shamsia


Yusuf “Roadsinger” (2009)


When I heard that a new album by Yusuf, the artist who will always be known to millions of people as Cat Stevens, was being released I must admit I was worried. His first album to break a 38-year silence, ‘An Other Cup’ (2006) had plenty of Cat-like moments, full of feline grace and beauty and two out-and-out classics in ‘Maybe There’s  a World’ and ‘One Day At A Time’, but it was an inconsistent mis-mash, with far too much filler and lots of the typical singer-songwriter prog rocky mystical ‘traps’ that everyone assumes Cat’s music to be full of – but aren’t (spoken word monologues, wacky instrumentals, old standard blues songs covered in strings – you name the gimmick, ‘Another Cup’ over-boiled it). Even granted the fact that Yusuf spent most of his time away from music not thinking about it at all (unlike, say, John Lennon, who spent all but the first year of his ‘house-husband’ phase half-heartedly planning his two ‘comeback’ albums), the sheer amount of mistakes and the whole hurried feel of the ‘cup’ project suggested that this comeback was going to be as short-lived as the length of time a teabag stays in the cup. Would this comeback slide further into parody and travesty and hurt the reputation of an artist who - in his first career - made the odd lacklustre album but had never yet made a 'bad' album?

As things turned out I was worrying needlessly. Follow-up album 'Roadsinger' trounces the first in so many ways it’s hard to believe it’s by the same performer. Consistent, multi-textured and similar enough to the old records without copying them religiously, ‘Roadsinger’ is the best Cat Stevens in such an awful long time – ‘Buddha and the Chocolate Box’ perhaps, or even ‘Tillerman’ (yes it really is that good!) Yusuf seems to have found his voice again on ‘Roadsinger’, both literally (his voice sounds confident and assured again here, unlike ‘Another Cup’ where too often he just sounds like a pale shadow of his former self) and metaphorically (while the first record was released to 'see' if the world needed a Cat Stevens-style record, this album is sure of it). Best of all, Cat’s returned to the bluesy flavour of his mid-70s records (notably ‘Catch-Bull at Four’ and ‘Foreigner’), a sound that didn’t always work the first time around but really suits this maturer, deeper voices, less troubled but nevertheless still searching incarnation of our favourite feline. Oh and we also get two old AAA friends among the cast list, both missing for far too many years: Hollies harmony singer Terry Sylvester, whose silky harmonies really enhance three of the tracks here and Stephen Stills’ bassist and collaborator Kenny Passarelli, whose fascinating counterpointed bass rumblings sound as great as they ever did. 'Roadsinger' might not be quite the best thing Cat has ever done, but it's the first time music has taken up so much of his time and attention in decades and is already easily the best 'new' album we've reviewed here at the AAA released within our lifespan (note: this might not be quite as impressive as it sounds today when we've covered 500+ albums; at this point our website was still merely months old and  the nearest 'competitors' are the last disappointing Oasis album and a patchy live CSNY record!)

'An Other Cup' was the sound of a man who wasn't at all sure whether music was what he ought to be doing after so many years away and so much debate over what the Qu'ran really says about musicians (for years Yusuf thought it 'banned' a career in music, but all it really bans is making money from music that isn't about God or spiritual yearning - basically everything he'd already laughed at in the lyrics to 'Pop Star' on 'Mona Bone Jakon'). The best thing about this album is that Yusuf feels in a position to use his influence and  creative gifts for 'good' again and there are many similarities to 'Mona', not least the return to the social conscience in Cat's lyrics that hadn't been heard since the 'Catch Bull' days 45-odd years earlier. 'An Other Cup' lives in its own bubble, full of references to religion and a troubled past that could have been released in any era. 'Roadsinger', by contrast, is very much a 'now' record: there are lots of references to the credit crunch and the Western world not having all the answers here, which are far more subtle ways of letting Yusuf preach about his new-found faith, the spiritual references back to being vague and enticing again, instead of being dull and shoved down our throats once more). Above all Cat is using his music not to preach but to comfort: with so many wars and suffering the 2009 version of the world needs a 'peace train' as much as it ever did in the 1970s and Cat is right there, updating his old message in the form of both a re-recording of that very song ('Peace Train Blues', released as a digital 'bonus' track) and the wonderful central image of Cat in a campervan travelling the world offering 'peace'. Yes it's a daft idea: the van is beaten up and weatherworn (perhaps like the singer himself) and doesn't seem likely to make it to the end of the road never mind the world, but it's a lovely image and allows Cat to make the point that he's not just preaching to 'them' any more - he's talking directly to 'us'. 'An Other Cup' was promoted via one rather odd concert (featuring zulu re-recordings of old friends and rather too many new songs) plus some hesitant and defensive interviews, all conducted largely in Britain; fittingly 'Roadsinger' was a much more international affair with Yusuf as warm and engaging as he'd ever been. The difference between the two comeback records is huge: 'An Other Cup' was a pulpit sermon; 'Roadsinger' is a travelling troubadour 'on the road to find out' just like the old days.

What Yusuf finds on his journey is interesting in that once again his characters and narrators tend to be lost and questioning, rather than committed and sure - and while the narrator thinks he knows more about what 'answers' they need he's staying quieter this time around, there to comfort not to preach. In this world 'everybody's thinking about the rain', their eyes closed to everything except the intense deluge and wondering whether 'the sun will shine again'. Two different songs paints Earth as a 'world of darkness' where 'no one cares for anyone else' and another more hopefully portrays a 'Glass World' where people will find all they need if only they can learn to look up; they don't even need to leave home on 'the road to find out' anymore: 'going nowhere, we've got everything'. The later 'Dream On...' then has Yusuf repeated the idea, urging us all to 'dream on' until we 'awake' in the next world.   For the first time since the 1970s even Yusuf doesn't have all the answers, sounding as lost and human as he ever used to. 'Everytime I Dream' finds him waking from a night's vision of one of his own girlfriends he last met a lifetime ago (possibly even 'Lady D'arbanville' or the groupie in 'Sun/C79'), wondering whether he's taken the right path in life after all. (Another, 'waking' song has Yusuf 'Thinking About You' - a more 'normal' love song that suggests he did find the right path after all). Elsewhere Yusuf hints at better times for us all, perhaps in the next world, perhaps in this if we can only discover it for ourselves before we die and for once this isn't just a world accessed only by believers: all kinds of roses grow in 'His' garden, making their own paths towards the 'sun'; another song adds that 'to be what you must, just reach pout for what you are' - that spiritual enlightenment is a path open to us all (even The Spice Girls). While religion and God are mentioned, they tend to be in passing - Yusuf's wife's eyes remind him of God's beauty. Only twice does Yusuf sound like a pillar of the Muslim community, headmaster of a school and key talker round the world: on 'The Rain' imagines himself as a modern-day 'Noah' wondering if it's up to 'him' to save everybody from a drowning world (presumably metaphorical, although it was quite a rainy Winter back then I seem to remember...); if this was 'An Other Cup' the answer would probably have been a resounding 'yes', but on 'Roadsinger' Yusuf never gets an answer. The other is 'All Kinds Of Roses' where Yusuf only has room for 'one God' in his 'heart'. Otherwise religion is a backdrop to these songs, not centre-stage like it had been on 'An Othe Cup', a device that works so much better (if you're a George Harrison fan this is 'Cat's 'All Things Must Pass', not his God-heavy 'Living In The Material World').

So what's filled the place of religion in Cat's work? Well that social consciousness beats heavier in these lyrics than before, with Cat clearly worried about what's happened to the world while he's been away. The idea of bankers and politicians colluding to make money and threaten peace and security from within while Cat's own religion's extremists threaten it from the outside is a scary scenario even the 'Foreigner' wouldn't have dared dream up. Other AAA stars commenting on these themes have been angry (mainly CSNY), occasionally betrayed (Ray Davies) and often nostalgic for better times (Oasis/Beady Eye). Yusuf simply sounds sad: he knew that capitalism and money were no alternatives to religion and spirituality for a fulfilled life and so it has proved. However there's no 'I told you so' or 'tut-tutting', just a big warm aural hug for those caught in the 'rain', while Yusuf tries to hold a large 'spiritual umbrella' over everyone caught up in it. At times Yusuf wonders how on earth people can carry on with such sadness; at other times he wonders when mankind will finally 'learn' that there is more to life than the security that's always being taken away from them. In short, the wheels have come off the wagon, but Yusuf knows 'someone' who can fix it - but he's waiting for the world to ask rather than offering his 'services' this time around.

 Just like the old days, most of this album is taking up with two themes, both of which have been raised before (giving this record a nice 'Cat Stevensy' feel). We've already touched on the one about dreaming. Traditionally many prophets of every religion have been given the 'truth' in a vision that's come to them in their sleep. Here the image is both more personal (as on 'Everytime I Dream'), urging the narrator on to make a 'personal' realisation, or more universal, as the lyrics reflect a 'sleeping world' Yusuf longs to 'wake up' but know have to come round to his way of thinking in their 'own time', unaware that they're in a 'spiritual garden' until, like him, they've been 'plucked'. That's quite a neat theme, reflecting both Cat's struggles with TB that left him sleeping a lot and his pre-illness song 'I'm So Sleepy'  and 'A Bad Night', finally making good on a theme raised as long ago as 1967!
The other is one of travel. of intending to end up at certain destinations only to find you got side-tracked along the way. Life is a series of road service stations, Cat seems to be saying, with the stops along the way so distracting and comforting that we forget about the life-long journey we should be going on (no wonder so many songs seem to be about the ‘credit crunch’ – expect lots more albums along these lines to follow). That makes it sound like it should be an album-long version of ’Peace Train’, but actually what we get is like an album long version of ’Wild Wood’, with modern society painted as a place where you can be happy as long as you learn to stay clear of trouble and temptation. Cat even re-casts himself as a singing travelling gypsy a la Ronnie lane on the title track, a medieval minstrel in a modern camper van travelling across the world and reminding people of truths they don’t want to be reminded of. Yusuf is the 'Roadsinger', travelling no by foot but by a low budget economically-fuelled camper van (lovingly re-created for the album cover, complete with 'making of' on the 'deluxe' DVD version: how very Cat to tell us how he 'made' the front cover but not the record itself!) Traditionally Muslim seers travelled the world by foot, passing on their tales of the Qu'ran and spreading the word: Yusuf feels his journey is the same, although it's also a neat mirror of his own past: of being 'On The Road To Find Out', of journeying through a 'Wild Wood', of navigating with the 'Tillerman'. After setting out in the early 1970s, a switch in ideas finds Cat trying to find his way 'home', Prodigal Son style, something he finds only in death ('Home In The Sky') or in his yearning imagination ('Home' itself).  Nicely this record starts not with the Roadsinger van making its journey but 'Welcome Home' - as uplifting and unwinding as a hot bath, as Cat returns to old familiar places in his return to music. Yusuf seems to be hinting that he's now found 'home' - it's where he's been living all this time he's been 'away' from us - but now we need him out there in the community, spreading the word of peace, and that's why he's travelling. It's a lovely image, very in keeping with the Cat Stevens tradition, but this time round the road isn't destination-less or filled with horrors (as per 'Wild World'): it's a place Yusuf knows well by now and wants us to travel on with him.

Not that 'Roadsinger' is perfect. The record does make mistakes here and there – ‘Be What You Must’ is a terrible recording, all children’s choirs and clichéd melodies, while a few lyrics here and there are clunky ('Ooh, things are looking bad' must be the under-statement of the decade given that Cat is singing about the credit crunch, more like something George Osbourne would say than someone whose already lived through at least five in his lifetime).  The record is also arguably a couple of classics short of perfect: while all the songs are good this is a ridiculously short album in the CD age (barely 31 minutes) and while it's kind of in keeping with the 'return' to earlier albums ('Tillerman' is virtually the same length) it's not as if every track sounds remarkably different (instead this is a mood piece that doesn't often try anything new or radical - fair enough, given that this is one of the ways the eclectic 'An Other Cup' fell down, but a pain if you've forked out full money for an album that sounds largely the same - especially on an album partly about the hardship of the 'credit crunch' years). But that shows the huge gaping chasm of difference between these two ‘comeback’ projects – ‘Another Cup’ was built for show and to test the waters, with far too much poor material to sustain a 50 minute running time; ‘Roadsinger’ has instead been 'pruned' back to a more sustainable length, with less peaks perhaps but far less troughs along the way.

While we’re on about timings, though, why wasn’t the Dolly Parton/Paul McCartney collaboration 'Boots and Sand'  included on the album, seeing as it’s all so short anyway? For those who don't know this was the 'headline-grabbing' track that everyone was taking about (and so was a surprise absentee from the album): a comic piece about Yusuf travelling to America to talk about peace and then being booted off a USA-bound aeroplane for being on a list of 'terror suspects' he should never have been on in the first place? While not the greatest thing Yusuf's ever written (or even the best thing on this album) it deserved a wider audience. Yusuf responded to the incident and wrote the song with a raised eyebrow rather than the angry put-downs other writers would have delivered in protest, but the irony of being told you're a 'bad influence' while feeling morally obliged to make your comeback as a 'good influence' isn't lost on Cat, whose on great self-deprecating form. What's more, against all Yusuf's 'not much publicity' motto, a video was shot for this song and included on the deluxe DVD version - making it all the odder it isn't here.

Apart from the running time and the odd glitch here and there, however, 'Roadsinger' is an excellent return to form that proves wholeheartedly that there is a place for Yusuf's music in this fragmented world of ours and that Yusuf still has much to say and come to terms with. We even nominated this record as one of our top town 21st century AAA releases in a 'News, Views and Music' newsletter not long ago: admittedly it's not been a classic period, but that's a picture of how highly we regard this quiet, pleasant, understated folkie album. There are an awful lot of autobiographical or at least autobiographical-sounding songs here, with Yusuf expressing his doubts about his own fallacies and wanderings away from the true path. Interestingly, they seem to be the ones taken from the forthcoming Cat Stevens musical ‘Moonshadow’ (thank God - whichever one you happen to subscribe to - that Yusuf’s not doing another ‘Mamma Mia’) – just as in the days of old, Cat appears to reveal his truest self when standing behind a character (editor's note: what happened to this musical? It never did seem to appear at the West End although it was apparently 'imminent' when this record came out. mentioned by Yusuf in a lot of the surrounding interviews). It's lovely to hear Yusuf going back to his folk-rock roots on a largely acoustic record surrounded by old friends and to hear him at one with his musical past again, re-awakened to just how powerful and helpful music can be in troubled times. We needed a Cat Stevens again when this album came out and Yusuf seems to know that too, sounding like he has something to tell us on this album and for the most part tells his stories well. Who'd have thought, though, that the next time the 'Roadsinger' came to town we'd be another five turbulent Coalition-destroyed years down the line...

The Songs:

‘Welcome Home’ is a back-to-my-roots acoustic song that sounds very similar to ‘Teaser’ or ‘Tillerman’ without actually quoting any specific song. The lyrics are very similar to the cat Stevens classic ‘On The Road To Find Out’, with the narrator peering back down a path where ‘seekers’ are known to travel’ and still trying to work out what path he should take at the next crossroads. The lyrical references to ‘time rolling on’ and ‘a new dawn welcoming me’ suggest the twin reasons Yusuf decided to re-enter the record business – to give it another go from his new-found ‘elder statesman’ status and to record his side of the story before it’s too late. The tune is less memorable than the words, but still contains elegant praise-worthy phrases and an interesting chorus hook that seems to come out of nowhere (‘time rolls on’), as if catching the narrator by surprise. The only part of this song that doesn’t work is the lyrical reference to a ‘sacred stone’; if this is a religious reference then it seems at odd with the rest of the song - which is about spirituality in general rather than religion specifically – and if it means something else, then it seems too obscure for this straightforward metaphorical song.

‘Thinking About You’ is a better song than it is a performance – had Yusuf approached it like the growling ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ rather than the fluffy and light ‘Back To Earth’ it might have fared better. But scratch the surface and this simple love song isn’t quite so simple as it seems: ‘climbing a mountain in the dark’ is a very clever line, taking us back to the ‘travelling’ theme. This is obviously a song about ‘God’ – ‘every burning comet that zooms thinks about you’ indeed – but it’s like an early 1970s Cat Stevens song about religion; the references are vague and simply meant to show the strengths of the narrator’s devotion – they aren’t actually about any specific religion or deity. Like the best of George Harrison’s work, this is a song whose vagueness allows it to be all things to all men whilst being specific enough for its clues to be obvious for fellow devotees.

‘Everytime I Dream’ is my own favourite on the album. The gentle use of horns and impressive acoustic strumming is just so cat Stevens-like that its hard to believe just how unusual in his canon this song really is (very few of his songs use overlapping acoustic guitars in the way this song does – and none of his songs use horns that I can think of). This is a terrific slab of heartfelt melancholy, half-blues, half singer songwriter confessional, with the narrator half-dreading half nervously anticipating his night of sleep, unsure whether he’s about to fall into a nightmare of his own making or a romantic dream of bliss that could have been his in some alternate reality. As explained, this song seems to be an older, wiser re-cap of Cat Stevens classic ‘Sun/C79’, with the narrator longing for something that he seemed to be promised once but now knows he can never have. The lyrics to this song actually run the original close; they are so poetic and yet so immediate and accessible that they make what should be a tired and overdone theme sound positively spell-binding (if you don’t believe me have a look at the ‘key lyrics’ quoted above – most of them come from this song). 
  
‘The Rain’ appears at first glance to be a straightforward song about the credit crunch and how badly it seems to have affected us all (if you read the Daily Mail, that is, where it’s been hyped out of all believability). But finally, thankfully, here is a reminder to everyone that we’ve been through recessions before far worse than this one (all that hoo-hah about this one being worse than the ‘Great Depression’ is ridiculous – it’s only now beginning to look like it might be as bad as the early 1990s recession, never mind the lot before it, whatever the media want to tell you). This song was written in the early 1970s as a companion song to ‘the Wind’ the sweet little song that opened ‘Teaser and the Firecat’. It’s a typical Cat Stevens-like song of the period – laidback acoustic strumming hitting a ferocious ever-changing orchestral arrangement head on. These lyrics show the best and worst of Cat Stevens/Yusuf over the years – the trite and the profound exist side by side, often on the same line. But taken together with the menacing orchestral accompaniment, it’s sterling stuff. The religious references are nicely vague once again (we get the story of Noah and the ark, with Cat Stevens dreaming he could build a metaphorical boat big enough to keep all humans and animals free from harm) and the glorious middle eight (wow another of my beloved middle eights! Nobody seems to write them anymore – this is just like old times!) ends with the troubled line ‘will there be enough believers with me?’ As current interviews with Yusuf have made clear, the singer still feels that troubled times bring out the best in the human spirit and by making people fight that much harder for what they want brings them a new idea of what they should be gaining from life. But will we still end up in this endless capitalist cycle, Yusuf seems to be saying? Or shall we escape it this time? 

Whatever the answer, this is a haunting and thought-provoking song, in true Cat Stevens tradition.
‘World Of Darkness’ is the first of the tracks from the ‘Moonshadow’ musical and sounds like it too – it has the same haunting sing-songy tune as most of Cat’s ‘Numbers’ concept album, a frustrated musical if ever there was one (I even thought the backing vocals were singing ‘Jzero’ in honour of the album’s main character the first time I heard this song – it’s actually ‘Shamsia’). The 80s synthesiser/panpipe hybrid is a painful touch (and makes us grateful yet again for the fact that Cat retired before that awful musical period could ruin his production skills), but the rest of the song’s arrangement is nicely spooky – rumbling bass, glittering bluesy electric guitar and Cat tripling his voices for the backing for the first time in three decades! Lyrically, this is another of those Cat Stevens songs that look at the struggle between good and evil, with yet more lyrical references to travelling down the wrong path and ending up in a place where ‘nobody cares for anybody else’.
‘Be What You Must’ is the closest this albums comes to disaster-level, but even this song’s not too bad (certainly, it’s better than a good half of ‘Another Cup’). The opening musical snippet of Cat Stevens classic ‘Sitting’ is annoying rather than clever (just as on ‘Another Cup’ where Cat ‘stole’ lots of his own ideas in order to save himself writing a complete song) and the children’s choir is yet another example of how Cat seems to have lost much of his ascetic taste since leaving music. But as a song it’s OK, even quite moving with it’s lyrical references to having ‘journeyed endless miles’ and ‘arriving on a wind of hope’ in true Cat-like tradition. The message inside this song (‘to be what you must you must give up who you are’) may be the best overall message in cat’s work for 40 years too – Yusuf’s career has been full of changes and contradictions, with the singer giving up everything he’s told he must have when he discovers for himself that that isn’t true. So it’s a shame that such a promising track is given such a throwaway arrangement – just look at how much energy is drained out of the track when Cat starts singing (his weakest vocal yet, I think, unlike his sterling work across the rest of the album) and how much returns when the track turns instrumental, with a relentless orchestral beast pounding down against a piano lick that rolls this way and that, trying to find the light.

‘This Glass World’ is much more like it and my second favourite song on here at the time of writing. Lyrically, it’s nothing special – the idea that we all live in a ‘glass bubble’, eyeing everybody elses’ home and wondering how we can step inside, oblivious to how great our own is fantastic in its own right but not developed all that well. Instead it’s the tune and the playing that make this song standout. The song fades in on some typically Cat-like (or at least Alun Davies-like) playing, gentle and soft, before Yusuf kicks in with one of his best ever vocals, stretching from a cautious rumble to a nicely confident falsetto just as in the days of old. The song just builds and builds from there, adding new elements every other line or so until this song finally peaks and ends, journeying from introspective ballad into classic rousing overcoming obstacles torchwaver status. The tune is gorgeous, rising and falling in tandem with the lyrics (falling away when Yusuf sings ‘going nowhere, we’ve got everything’ and striding forth on ‘no troubles here – that’s on the outside’) and a reminder that just because Cat chose to leave music behind, it didn’t necessarily leave him behind.
‘Roadsinger’ itself is another of those acoustic-songs-with-rumbling-bass that are obviously meant to remind us of ‘Tillerman’. But lyrically this song is more like ‘I Never Wanted To Be A Star’, the false ending given us on cat’s near-farewell album ‘Izitso’. That song recounted Cat’s life in all its many stages, with verse after verse mentioning particular breakthrough records in Yusuf’s life and the way that, despite his success and the way he could spread his message to millions, he was still trapped, alone, in the tour bus after each gig (this song is a real rarity in the Cat Stevens canon, ignored by pretty much everybody when it came out, but Yusuf’s been playing it a lot recently judging by this month’s Mojo interview). ‘Roadsinger’ is a lighter and fluffier song but still casts Cat as the road-weary traveller, unsure of whether his songs and messages will be welcomed or not in the changing world he doesn’t quite understand. So far so depressing, but as Brian Wilson and David Crosby will tell you, ‘the children know the way’ and the narrator is re-assured by the children who peep out from behind their barred doors and safety locks to hear his song. Interestingly, although this song very much comes down on the side of grumpiness when you study the lyrics (it sounds like one of those ‘the world isn’t what it was in my day’ rants usually relegated to Roger Waters solo albums), the music is uplifting and Yusuf’s vocal is almost cheerful.

‘All Kinds of Roses’ is up next, even though it’s first in the lyrics booklet included with the CD (why was this album put together in such a hurry?) It’s a simple repetitive acoustic singalong song that should be irritating but somehow isn’t – even though cat tells us several times about the mixed horticulture in his garden and the children playing nicely (most songwriters in the modern world would have the children breaking into the garden after doffing up Tillerman and teaser’s Firecat, so good on cat for sticking with his instincts given us on ‘Where Do the Children Play’ and reminding us again that its not the children’s fault but the adult’s fixation with children becoming like them that causes problems). This track has a pretty tune; nothing remarkable but similar enough to all those traditional folk songs played by Pentangle et al to add a nice new texture to this album.

‘Dream On (Until…)’ appears to be another of Yusuf’s ‘Moonshadow’ songs, given the segue with instrumental ‘Shamsia’ right at the end. It’s the third of the album’s true highlights, despite the lack of lyrics, thanks to a lazy hazy melody and one of the greatest sax arrangements on record. Thematically, we’re back to dreaming again, with fantasy and hope shown as a way to overcome obstacles in true Cat Stevens/Ray Davies mode (in fact, is it just me or do the arrangements on this album sound very similar to ray’s ‘Other People’s Lives’ albums of a couple of years back?) Unlike the other wordy and worthy songs on the album, this one is all about atmosphere, with a simple acoustic guitar lick embedded in a sea of saxophone, cymbal swashes and classy backing vocals. Hope has never sounded better than it does in this song, which is a classy and unusual way of ending the album, barring the short instrumental that follows.

So, overall, this is a classic album, one that might well have ended up on this list proper had it come out before I’d written all my other reviews (along with that Ray Davies album, interestingly enough). It successfully reminds us of all the things that Cat Stevens stood for in the first place whilst extending Yusuf’s abilities and ideas, revisiting many past ideas with an older and wiser head without taking too much of the fun and games of those early albums away. Cat Stevens has been on quite a journey during his 42 years in the public eye and he has a pretty much unique knack of being able to put that experience directly into his songs, or at least it’s a gift he’s re-discovered again after losing it along the way (interestingly, he shares that gift with the AAA list’s other famous cancerian, Ray Davies). Brooding but moving, sweet but sinister, hopeful yet realistic, this is everything I hoped that ‘Another Cup’ would be – and I was so disappointed that it wasn’t. If only this album was a proper length, it would be pretty much perfect. Welcome back Cat/Yusuf/Steven Georgeou/Roadsinger - whatveer name you travel under oh how we’ve missed you!



Other Cat Stevens/Yusuf reviews from this site you might be interested in:

'Matthew and Son' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/cat-stevens-matthew-and-son-1967.html

'New Masters' (1968) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-114-cat.html

'Mona Bone Jakon' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-35-cat-stevens-mona-bone-jakon.html

'Tea For The Tillerman' (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-41-cat-stevens-tea-for-tillerman.html

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