Cat Stevens

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Matthew And Son (1967), 5/10
New Masters (1968), 3/10
Mona Bone Jakon (1970), 6/10
Tea For The Tillerman (1970), 7/10
Teaser And The Firecat (1971), 7/10
Catch Bull At Four (1972), 7/10
Foreigner (1973), 6.5/10
Buddha And The Chocolate Box (1974), 4/10
Numbers (1975), 3/10
Izitso (1977), 5/10
Back To The Earth (1978), 3/10
Another Cup (2006), 3/10
Roadsinger (2009), 3/10
Tell `Em I'm Gone (2014), 3/10

Greek-born Cat Stevens coined a sound that was unusual in being, at the same time, pensive, ethnic, melodic and rhythmic. The philosophical ruminations, psychological studies and bittersweet parables of Tea For The Tillerman (1970) led to the elegiac and introverted ballads of Teaser And The Firecat (1971), that could be tenderly impressionistic as well as vividly epic. Mediterranean and Slavic influences emerged more clearly in the forceful, noisy melodramas of Catch Bull At Four (1972) and in the suite Foreigner (1973).
(Translated from my original Italian text by DommeDamian)

Cat Stevens (Steven Georgiou) was one of the most intelligent and original singer-songwriters of the early 1970s. His songs merged a melodism of Mediterranean ancestry, Greek-Slavic rhythms and above all an intense tone, sometimes melodramatic, sometimes quietly philosophical and sometimes meditational as in Zen. Whether he talked or sang, Stevens had the gift of a psychological style that was both lucid and devious. His songs were bitter-sweet realist parables, neither ecstatic like those of hippies nor melancholy like those of Greenwich Village folksingers.

Matthew And Son (Deram, 1967) introduced him as the consumer singer. Matthew And Son climbed the charts, as well as Here Comes My Baby (but in the interpretation of the Tremeloes). New Masters (Deram, 1968) contains The First Cut Is The Deepest .

In 1969 he miraculously saved himself from a serious attack of tuberculosis and was seized by the first existential crisis. Having abandoned the ambitions of classification, Mona Bone Jakon (A&M, 1970) presented an intellectual with a complex personality who faced situations of everyday life. Stevens accompanied his piano ballads with a style that was more classical than rock. At his side there was also a skilled guitarist, Alun Davies, a veteran of  Jon Mark 's Sweet Thursday (as well as the young flutist  Peter Gabriel ).
Lady D'Arbanville, a celestial folk serenade at the same time enthralling, opened her courteous songbook, while Trouble and in Maybe You're Right they inaugurated a dialogue-form for adult ballads sung in a "lived-in" tone. The most vehement, I Think I See The Light, was the manifesto of his obsessive rhythmic progressions, put to use even in the catchiest song I Wish I Wish.  Kathmandu raised a moving ode to the capital of transcendental meditation. The album was patchy and fragmentary, but contained all the elements of his future career in a nutshell.

Tea For The Tillerman (A&M, 1970) refined Cat Stevens' intimism into an even more elegiac form of introverted ballad. Sweet melodies explore the love relationship but also more existential subjects. The moving meditation of Into White , the epic and poignant denunciation of Wild World , the tender portrait of Sad Lisa , the vibrant serenade of Hard Headed Woman and the calm wisdom of Father And Son are small miracles of human warmth. In all of which Stevens demonstrates an unsurpassed ability in dealing with universal themes with the tone of the common man, in outlining a story, a face, a situation with a few intense poetic touches, in transforming a refrain into a atmosphere; an inexhaustible flair for the most crystalline melody. And outside the standard songbook are more aggressive rhythmic experiments Miles To Nowhere , On The Road To Find Out and Longer Boats ) which draw on Slavic and Middle Eastern folklore as well as British folklore.
The piano is the second voice here, sometimes voiced by the guitar, even if the most sentimental effects are obtained by the violin, counterpoint of the most romantic moments. Stevens draws only indirectly from folk, his is a figure of a modern, existential and psychological minstrel, immersed in a real world, of generational conflicts and political violence, attracted by the rural world and Indian spiritualism.

Stevens was at the peak of his compositional skills and prepared a valuable sequel, Teaser And The Firecat (1971). Stevens touches other peaks of introspection, especially when, enraptured in an ecstasy of supreme sweetness, he gathers to contemplate a natural landscape, as in the gentle chant of Moon Shadow. Equally original, he succeeds in the rhythmic party of Tuesday's Dead and in the heroic soul of Peace Train , two of the most expansive moments of his career. In the delicate impressionism of Morning Has Broken, his melodic peak, of religious intensity, is the quintessence of his parsimonious arrangements: introduction of the theme to the solo piano, chorus to the rhythm of the guitar, gospel reprise of the piano, second chorus with hopelessly moved choir and a collective ending.

Stevens moved away from the folk ballad with Catch Bull At Four (1972), an album set on more vigorous tones, more aggressive rhythms, arrangements of strings and winds, more elaborate trends. Emphasis harms reflection, and much more rhythmic songs like Can't Keep It In, lose in poetry what they acquire in enthusiasm. Sitting is the most forceful song, propelled by harsh piano syncopes and voiced by an angelic choir; even neurasthenic seems to be 18th Avenue Nightmare , complete with a string section, the only one to guess a distressed melody that recalls the poignant tenderness of the beginning. All three guiding themes seem to aspire to a violent, epic, superhuman pathos Freezing Steel even uses synths and a hard-rock riff).

The Foreigner suite (1973) explicitly brings to light Slavic and Mediterranean folklore, with often fascinating results but also with the effect of dispersing lyricism under kilos of heavy arrangements.

Buddha And The Chocolate Box (1974), Numbers (1975), with the catchy Banapple Gas , Izitso (1977), the best of this season (the enthralling Old Schoolyard and the instrumental dance music of Was Dog A Donut ), and Back To The Earth (1978) are mediocre albums that ended his musical relevance.

Seized by a mystical crisis, in 1977 Cat Stevens converted to the Muslim religion, abandoned the music scene, renounced all rights to his records and (a few years later) changed its name again, this time Yusuf Islam. In 1989 he approved the death sentence of the writer Salman Rushdie for having offended the prophet Mohammed and in 1991 he defended his "Muslim brother" Saddam Hussein (and thank goodness he calls himself a "moderate").

His "Islamic" career began only 16 years later, with The Life Of The Last Prophet (1995), I Have No Cannons That Roar (1997), Prayers Of The Last Prophet (1998) and the double A Is For Allah (2000), which are collections of various music (his and others) and recitations, for propaganda purposes.

Cat Stevens (Steven Georgiou) fu uno dei singer-songwriter piu` intelligenti e originali dei primi anni '70. Le sue canzoni fondevano un melodismo di ascendenza mediterranea, ritmi greco-slavi e soprattutto un tono intenso, talvolta melodrammatico, talvolta pacatamente filosofico e talvolta meditazionale come nello zen. Che raccontasse o dialogasse, Stevens aveva il dono di uno stile psicologico che era al tempo stesso lucido e subdolo. Le sue canzoni erano parabole realiste dolce-amare, ne' estatiche come quelle degli hippie ne' malinconiche come quelle dei folksinger del Greenwich Village.

Matthew And Son (Deram, 1967) lo presento` nei panni del cantante di consumo. Matthew And Son scalo` le classifiche, cosi` come Here Comes My Baby (ma nell'interpretazione dei Tremeloes). New Masters (Deram, 1968) contiene The First Cut Is The Deepest.

Nel 1969 si salvo` per miracolo da un grave attacco di tubercolosi e venne colto dalla prima crisi esistenziale. Abbandonate le velleita` di classifica, Mona Bone Jakon (A&M, 1970) presento` un intellettuale dalla personalita` complessa che affrontava situazioni della vita quotidiana. Stevens accompagnava le sue ballate al piano con uno stile che era piu` classico che rock. Al suo fianco c'era anche un abile chitarrista, Alun Davies, reduce dai Sweet Thursday di Jon Mark (nonche' il giovane flautista Peter Gabriel).
Lady D'Arbanville una celestiale serenata folk al tempo stesso trascinante, apriva il suo canzoniere cortese, mentre Trouble e Maybe You're Right inauguravano una forma-dialogo per ballate adulte cantate in tono "vissuto". La piu` veemente I Think I See The Light era il manifesto delle sue progressioni ritmiche ossessive, messe a frutto anche nella piu` orecchiabile I Wish I Wish. Katmandu levava un'ode commossa alla capitale della meditazione trascendentale. L'album era disuniforme e frammentario, ma conteneva in nuce tutti gli elementi della sua carriera futura.

Tea For The Tillerman (A&M, 1970) raffino` l'intimismo di Cat Stevens in una forma ancor piu` elegiaca di ballata introversa. Melodie dolcissime esplorano il rapporto amoroso ma anche soggetti piu` esistenziali. La commovente meditazione di Into White, l'epica e struggente denuncia di Wild World, il tenerissimo ritratto di Sad Lisa, la vibrante serenata di Hard Headed Woman e la pacata saggezza di Father And Son sono piccoli miracoli di calore umano in cui Stevens dimostra un'insuperata abilita' nel trattare temi universali con il tono dell'uomo comune, nel tratteggiare con pochi intensi tocchi poetici una storia, un volto, una situazione, nel trasformare un ritornello in un'atmosfera; un estro inesauribile per la melodia piu` cristallina. E fuori del canzoniere standard si situano esperimenti ritmici piu` aggressivi (Miles To Nowhere, On The Road To Find Out e Longer Boats) che attingono tanto al folklore slavo e medio-orientale quanto a quello britannico.
Il piano e` la seconda voce, talvolta doppiato dalla chitarra, anche se gli effetti piu` sentimentali li ottiene il violino, contrappunto degli attimi piu` romantici. Stevens attinge solo indirettamente al folk, la sua e` una figura di menestrello moderno, esistenziale e psicologico, immerso in un mondo reale, di conflitti generazionali e di violenza politica, attratto peraltro dal mondo rurale e dallo spiritualismo indiano.

Stevens era al culmine delle sue capacita` compositive e appronto` un valido seguito, Teaser And The Firecat (1971). Stevens lambisce altri vertici d'introspezione, soprattutto quando, rapito in un'estasi di suprema dolcezza, si raccoglie a contemplare un panorama naturale, come nella soave cantilena di Moon Shadow. Altrettanto originale riesce nella festa ritmata di Tuesday's Dead e nel soul eroico di Peace Train, due tra i momenti piu` espansivi della sua carriera. Nel delicato impressionismo di Morning Has Broken, suo vertice melodico, d'intensita` religiosa, e` la quintessenza dei suoi arrangiamenti parsimoniosi: introduzione del tema al solo piano, ritornello a ritmo di chitarra, ripresa gospel del piano, secondo ritornello con coro perdutamente commosso e finale collettivo.

Stevens si allontano` dalla ballata folk con Catch Bull At Four (1972), un album impostato su toni piu` vigorosi, ritmi piu` aggressivi, arrangiamenti di archi e fiati, andamenti piu` elaborati. L'enfasi nuoce alla riflessione, e brani come Can't Keep It In, molto piu` cadenzati, perdono in poesia quel che acquistano in foga. Sitting e` la canzone piu` veemente, propulsa da dure sincopi pianistiche e doppiata da un coro angelico; persino nevrastenica pare 18th Avenue Nightmare, con tanto di sezione d'archi, l'unica peraltro ad indovinare una melodia angosciata che ricorda la struggente tenerezza degli esordi. Tutti e tre i temi guida sembrano ambire a un pathos violento, epico, sovrumano (Freezing Steel usa persino il synth e un riff si hard-rock).

La suite Foreigner (1973) porta alla luce esplicitamente il folklore slavo e mediterraneo, con risultati spesso affascinanti ma anche con l'effetto di disperdere il lirismo sotto chili di arrangiamenti pesanti.

Buddha And The Chocolate Box (1974), Numbers (1975), con l'orecchiabile Banapple Gas, Izitso (1977), il migliore di questa stagione (la trascinante Old Schoolyard e la dance music strumentale di Was Dog A Doughnut), e Back To The Earth (1978) sono album mediocri con cui si chiuse la sua carriera.

Colto da crisi mistica, nel 1977 Cat Stevens si converti` alla religione mussulmana, abbandono` le scene musicali, rinuncio` a tutti i diritti sui suoi dischi e (qualche anno dopo) cambio` di nuovo nome, questa volta Yusuf Islam. Nel 1989 approvo` la condanna a morte dello scrittore Salman Rushdie per aver offeso il profeta Mohammed e nel 1991 difese il suo "fratello Mussulmano" Saddam Hussein (e meno male che si definisce un "moderato").

La sua carriera "islamica" e` iniziata soltanto 16 anni dopo, con The Life Of The Last Prophet (1995), I Have No Cannons That Roar (1997), Prayers Of The Last Prophet (1998) e il doppio A Is For Allah (2000), che sono raccolte di musiche varie (sue e di altri) e di recitazioni, a scopo propagandistico.

Cat Stevens returned to the pop world with the mediocre Another Cup (2006) and Roadsinger (To Warm You Through The Night) (A&M, 2009) credited to Yusuf (he always had a talent for picking goofy monikers). Yusuf moved to Dubai in 2010 but recorded Tell `Em I'm Gone (2014), produced by Rick Rubin, in Los Angeles. It was another tedious pop-soul offering.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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