CD: Cat Stevens/Yusuf - The Laughing Apple - The legendary songwriter gives us the album we've b
When, in 2006, Yusuf announced his return to music, speculation was rife as to how he might now sound. At first, the music felt gentle and touchy-feely. Then came 2014's Tell 'Em I'm Gone – a strutting, blues record full of attitude. More exciting than either of these new musical directions, though, were those odd moments where Yusuf offered a glimpse of his old, wistful self. It gave hope that one day he might record another full-on Cat Stevens album. And here it is.
The Laughing Apple consists of three new songs and eight re-interpretations of forgotten tracks from the Sixties and Seventies. Although the source material comes from various periods, the album's mood is distinctly Tea for the Tillerman-era. Partly, of course, it's Yusuf's iconic voice – the passage of time has simply served to make his vocals more avuncular. But mainly the LP evokes the glory years because of the presence of some top-notch songs.
"See What Love Did to Me" is the best of the new tracks. The song is built around a brisk guitar riff and features upbeat lyrics set to a warm, catchy melody. The other standout tracks hail from Stevens' back catalogue. "Grandsons" is an update of a piece called "Got a Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old". Time has moved on and now the narrator is old and ill, making for one of the singer's most fragile, empathetic vocal performances. "You Can Do (Whatever!)" is a complete contrast: the original was dropped from the Harold and Maude soundtrack in favour of "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out". If you know the latter, you'll recognise the same uplifting optimism here.
Other notable moments include a handful of songs rescued from their original big band arrangements on New Masters, and the previously unreleased "Mighty Peace", one of the Cat's first songs. Of course, the album's quality is not entirely even. Nor does it need to be. The record succeeds where it has to. It will satisfy music historians who will appreciate how well Yusuf and his old team have recreated their classic sound. Everyone else can simply marvel at the singer's continuing, uncanny ability to translate life's journey into three minutes of infectious melody.