Thursday, 21 September 2017

Yusuf/Cat Stevens - The Laughing Apple, album review

Resonance of What Once Was

I have always liked Cat Stevens and I like this in both its revisiting of his earliest work and in his renaming himself as Cat Stevens alongside Yusuf. I stress that the renaming is no kind of alteration or rejection or whatever – it would seem to be a simple acknowledgement of himself as a composite character, proudly the whole of who he was and is.

When an album like this is released I do like to check out a few reviews. What I have just read seem generally positive. There are those which focus on the obvious echo of early Cat Stevens, and the simplicity of that then and now, and those necessarily doing the same though being more positive about this, mentioning the gruffer but still signature vocal and a mature presentations of songs from his first two albums as well as some new.

I veer to the latter, though both are fine. The lyrical preoccupations are as simple and na├»ve as ever – they are of their time after all – but what is inescapable as a listener is the gulf that exists between that childlike optimism of the late 60s/early 70s, from folk and other performers and their listeners, and the dismal reality of that optimism’s failure to be realised over this time.

But there is no harm in reasserting the positive innocence of that thinking. There are plenty of candid alternatives. Any album with the song Mary and the Little Lamb about cuddling and loving is clearly still pushing the sweet and the probably twee, but it is a naivety that doesn’t grate – not for me anyway – because it is carried on the historical weight, light as it is, of the musical comfort zone which is classic Cat Stevens. More than nostalgia, it is still full of this. And if this is two sentences of rather obvious contradiction, I think that is the enduring appeal, because my harder side wants to deny the pretty simplicities but being hopeful is attractive still.

The one 'darker' tracks is opener Blackness of the Night which is from 1967 and the New Masters album. But even this is framed within the context of being about a soldier who is ruing what he has become/done, so it exists within that 60s 'peace protest' outlook. I mention because one review I read this morning appeared to appropriate its meaning as a reflection of an older Yusuf/Cat Stevens, but I don't think you can drag out that notion from its original context.

One of the sweetest songs is the last one, I’m So Sleepy, also from his 1967 album New Masters. It is the quintessence of him gloriously sung with overdubbed harmony, a resonance of asserted belief in what once was.

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